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US Rep. Richard Neal cautions government shutdown could delay tax filing season

January 7, 2019
In The News

With nearly 90 percent of Internal Revenue Service employees furloughed due to the partial government shutdown, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal has called on the Trump administration to detail how the federal funding lapse will impact the upcoming tax filing season.

Neal, a Springfield Democrat and chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, recently sent letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig seeking clarifications on how the shutdown -- now in its third week -- will impact Americans' ability to file their tax returns and access refunds.

The congressman noted that while the agency has typically begun tax filing seasons in January, the IRS has yet to indicate when the new one will start.

He further raised concerns about reports that the agency will not issue refunds or carry out other taxpayer services during the shutdown, which has furloughed 72,000 Treasury employees, including 70,000 IRS workers, or 87.5 percent of the workforce.

Arguing that such inaction is “causing undue hardship on American taxpayers and the Treasury workforce,” Neal asked Mnuchin and Rettig to detail when the IRS will begin accepting and processing individual tax returns and whether the agency will issue federal tax refunds during the shutdown.

Neal also requested details on how the funding lapse has impacted the administration’s ability to implement and prepare guidance for the federal tax changes, which were signed into law in December 2017 and set to take effect this filing season.

“Given this is the first tax filing season to reflect the overhaul of the tax law, it is particularly important for stakeholders, taxpayers and the Congress to understand Treasury’s current capabilities and anticipated challenges, including those related to the government shutdown,” he wrote, asking that such information be provided by Jan. 11.

The congressman noted that ahead of last year’s tax filing season, the IRS announced on Jan. 4 that it would begin accepting tax returns later that month. The agency processed about 130 million individual tax returns and issued nearly 100 million refunds totaling $275 billion between Jan. 29 and April 27, 2018.

Neal, in his letter, stressed that many families expect to receive such refunds, which averaged about $2,800 in 2018, in a timely fashion “in order to pay for basic expenses like rent, food and child care.”

The congressman told The Republican that he wants to ensure the IRS has the personnel needed to process tax returns so that Americans who rely on their tax returns to pay bills can access them.

Neal further chastised President Donald Trump and Republican leaders for their role in creating the partial government shutdown.

“The president and Republicans in the Senate and the House all agreed on a strategy three weeks ago. And now that strategy, based on the president’s intransigence, has fallen apart,” he said.

The shutdown began late last month when funding ran out for nine Cabinet-level departments and various agencies after Congress and the White House failed to reach an agreement on a spending measure.

The Associated Press noted that about 420,000 workers were deemed essential would work unpaid, while an additional 380,000 were furloughed.