Democrats raise concerns over stimulus payment delays

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Democrats in Congress are criticizing how millions of economic impact payments authorized under the CARES Act are being handled.

The Democratic leaders of the main tax committees in Congress, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked the heads of the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service to resolve all outstanding taxpayer-specific issues and immediately send these Americans the stimulus payments provided in the CARES Act. They noted that only 5 percent of callers could reach IRS staff on the helpline for the economic impact payment, and the IRS’s designated mailbox for congressional offices has answered only 62 percent of incoming emails, leaving more than 13,000 emails unread.

In early June, the Treasury reported that approximately 159 million stimulus payments had been issued after initially estimating it would make 171 million payments in total. Since that time, the Treasury has made fewer than 1.5 million payments, a pace that the lawmakers said was “unacceptable.” Many Americans have been counted in the Treasury’s disbursement numbers even though they only received partial payments. This includes individuals who did not receive payment for dependents they properly registered on the IRS’s non-filer portal. These mistakes along with flaws in programming and methodology are cause for concern, they noted, particularly with a new round of stimulus payments on the horizon.

“As the pandemic continues to ravage the nation, Americans cannot wait any longer for the emergency assistance they were told would arrive in the spring,” Neal and Wyden wrote in a letter Monday to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS commissioner Charles Rettig. “Treasury must take immediate and decisive action to pay all eligible Americans, including taxpayers who still await a payment date on the Get My Payment portal, individuals who have received a Notice 1444 but no payment, and non-filers who do not have the technological means to register on an online portal.”

Neal and Wyden also see problems with the service taxpayers have received from the IRS in responding to their inquiries about the missing economic impact payments. “We believe a critical first step is for the IRS to improve its existing platforms for handling EIP inquiries,” they wrote. “Since Treasury began issuing EIPs, constituents and congressional offices alike have expressed much frustration about their inability to obtain resolution from the IRS. Indeed, IRS officials recently reported that, as of July 10, the EIP phone line had received a staggering 15.4 million calls. Of these callers, more than 14 million received an automated recording and almost 50,000 had their calls dropped. Sadly, only 800,000—5 percent of all callers—were able to speak with IRS staff who had access to taxpayer-specific data after waiting an average of 36 minutes on hold.”

The lawmakers pointed out that the IRS hasn’t been responding to many of the inquiries it has received about the payments. “The IRS’s designated mailbox for congressional offices has been largely unresponsive, as it appears that there is not enough staff designated to answer the massive volume of inquiries,” they wrote. “Since the mailbox was opened in May, it received 25,000 inquiries by July 17, at a reported rate of about 700 to 1,000 new inquiries per day. As of that date, about 15,500 emails had received a reply or been forwarded within the IRS for answers, and there were more than 13,000 unread emails in the mailbox. Only recently did the IRS allocate additional staff to work constituent inquiries in the mailbox, but additional resources are necessary for the IRS to process the massive backlog immediately.”

Neal and Wyden acknowledged that over 159 million stimulus payments have been delivered successfully, but noted that millions more taxpayers are awaiting their payments. “Treasury and IRS employees have worked hard to implement the CARES Act, and we appreciate their efforts,” they wrote. “However, for millions of American families in financial distress, every day that passes without an EIP compounds frustrations and financial worries. Their pleas become even more urgent now that they also may miss a second round of EIPs because of unresolved issues from the first payment.”

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Tax refunds Coronavirus CARES Act IRS Treasury Department Richard Neal Ron Wyden
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