Michael Swartz / April 17, 2020

IRS Botches Relief Payments

From missing information to delays and wrong payments, it’s your government at work.

It sounded so simple and straightforward: Middle-class Americans — those hardest hit by the nation’s COVID-19 economic shutdown — were going to receive $1,200 per person and $500 per child in relief money from the federal government. With a sliding scale of reduction phasing payments out to $0 for those on the upper end of what’s considered middle class and priority in timing given to those lower on the scale, about 80 million taxpayers who had filed taxes in the last two years and had bank account information on file were supposed to receive a direct deposit this week. The IRS claimed, “[Our] employees are delivering these payments in record time compared to previous stimulus efforts.”

That may be, but unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the haste of putting together such a program in less than a month’s time made for a lot of waste. The most frequent complaint is from people not getting checks because of mistyped or just plain incorrect bank information. Others have noted a “glitch” that prevents some taxpayers who used preparation software like TurboTax or H&R Block from receiving their payments. At the other extreme, survivors of taxpayers who have passed away since the beginning of 2018 were shocked to receive an additional payment for their departed spouse, leaving these widows and widowers unsure of whether they would need to pay back the money. Add to that the complication of having back child support withheld from certain checks, and the result is a whole lot of confusion.

As a side note, the much-ballyhooed claim of delay caused by President Donald Trump’s desire to have his name on paper checks is a media-fed red herring.

Sadly, Uncle Sam hasn’t been much help in this case. The website intended to assist taxpayers in determining whether their payment is on its way quickly folded under the strain. “IRS is actively monitoring site volume; if site volume gets too high, users are sent to an online ‘waiting room’ for a brief wait until space becomes available, much like private sector online sites,” the agency said in a release. Alas, that “brief wait” often ends with a frustrating message: “Payment Status Not Available.” This can be a problem when the funds need to be available for people desperate to keep their financial heads above water.

As Ronald Reagan once quipped, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” are indeed terrifying words. Besides the relief-money snafu, Democrat obstructionism allowed the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program to exhaust its initial $350 billion allotment in just two weeks, leaving many businesses high and dry until the two sides can agree on how much more debt to heap onto the backs of our great-great-great-great grandchildren.

The real solution would be to open the economy back up regionally, taking prudent “social distancing” and personal precautions — a course of action we’ve advocated practically from the start of this lockdown. If nationwide protests are any indication, many Americans are eager to get back on with their lives. Fortunately, President Trump has initiated a plan for that reopening.

In the meantime, many other Americans will continue to wait on that $1,200 lifeline. After all, the government is “here to help.”

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