Today, the Oversight Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), held a hearing to examine how taxpayers interact with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), what the agency can do to better serve taxpayers, and how Congress can help.
As part of the Subcommittee’s ongoing work to reform the IRS into an agency focused on taxpayer service, members today heard from witnesses whose organizations help Americans of all walks of life understand and properly file their taxes, and address any problems they may have.
As Chairman Buchanan said at the start of the hearing:
“Today’s hearing is an important part of our efforts to reform the Internal Revenue Service. … With more and more taxpayers seeking help to comply with the complex tax laws, it is critical we hear from those … who directly interact with taxpayers on a regular basis.”
Recalling long wait times, inconsistent support from personnel, limited access to assistance, and a lack of educational resources, witnesses painted a disappointing picture of the relationship between the IRS and taxpayers. As Jennifer MacMillan, who represents the National Association of Enrolled Agents – or tax experts, licensed by the Department of Treasury – put it:
“Increasingly, enrolled agents, who are the frontline representatives of taxpayers at every level of the tax administrative system, are expressing the view that the quality of taxpayer service within the IRS has deteriorated to an unacceptable level over the last five years.”
Multiple members shared stories they have heard from people back home who struggle with the IRS year after year. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) told a story about a constituent from his district who was having troubles receiving his tax refunds due to reports of identity theft. The constituent was given conflicting answers and instructions from different agents over the same request, resulting in having to wait for months for his refund.
When Mr. Meehan asked how frequently inconsistencies like this occur for taxpayers, Ms. MacMillan replied:
“Tax refund holds are one of the big issues for identity theft … a lot of bonafide taxpayers are having their [refunds] frozen; and another issue is if you are a victim of ID theft, the IRS process for getting an IP pin is kind of burdensome.”
As witnesses explained, many taxpayers cannot rely on the IRS to help them navigate these challenges – which is why volunteer organizations like those represented today are so important.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo specifically highlighted the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax help to low-income taxpayers with disabilities and limited English. Mr. Curbelo – who has introduced bipartisan legislation to support these important programs – asked Karina Ron from the United Way Center for Financial Stability if VITA has been a successful tool for these taxpayers.
Ms. Ron responded:
“Definitely. And I would say, in Miami-Dade County for example, we estimate that we are only serving one percent of the folks that are eligible for this service. So, there’s definitely a lot of opportunity, a lot of demand there.”
She also noted there are close to 4,000 VITA sites which assisted over 1.3 million taxpayers with average adjusted gross income of $25,000 in 2017, helping return close to $2 billion to VITA clients in every state.
Lynnette Lee-Villanueva from the AARP Foundation agreed that these volunteer programs are needed, and that due to the amount of trouble people experience with the IRS yearly, that even more are needed to fill the current demand:
“We turn away taxpayers every year. Even though we serve 2.5 million, we still could serve many more.”
Chairman Buchanan closed the hearing by reiterating the importance of making sure that the IRS is an agency that puts the taxpayer first:
“Improving the relationship between the IRS and taxpayers starts with ensuring that taxpayer rights are being respected. … Key taxpayer rights include the right to be informed, the right to quality service, and the right to a fair and just tax system.”
As the Committee continues to develop IRS reform legislation, Members will work to hold the agency accountable for protecting taxpayers’ basic rights.
CLICK HERE to learn more about how the House and Senate are working to deliver a fair and simple tax code to all hard-working Americans and businesses.