By Kaye A. Thomas
Current as of January 15, 2015
The Taxpayer Advocate has released a depressing report.
Taxpayer service levels at the IRS have been declining for the last ten years. In 2004, the IRS answered 87% of calls from taxpayers seeking assistance, with an average hold time of 2½ minutes. On its toll-free lines and in roughly 400 walk-in sites, taxpayers received help on a wide range of tax questions. Tax return preparation assistance was provided to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers, many of them low-income, elderly or disabled. Here is what we can expect for 2015:
- The percentage of phone calls answered will likely fall below 50%, and may be as low as 43%.
- Average wait times may be greater than 30 minutes, and longer during peak times.
- Only basic tax questions will be answered during tax season, and no tax questions at all afterward, when millions of taxpayers are preparing returns on extension.
- Return prep assistance has been eliminated.
These depressing statistics from the Taxpayer Advocate’s annual report to Congress are not due to poor leadership at the IRS or an unwillingness of the agency’s personnel to do their jobs. They are the direct consequence of severe underfunding. While the agency’s workload increases each year, and will be particularly difficult this year with the implementation of new filing requirements, the IRS budget has been substantially reduced. These funding cuts have come primarily at the insistence of Republicans in Congress.
Throughout history, tax collectors have been reviled. This generalized antipathy has been exacerbated by a genuine (but misunderstood and overblown) scandal involving conservative groups seeking exempt status for organizations formed to promote their views, and amplified by a desire to demonstrate antipathy toward the Affordable Care Act in every way possible, including punishing cuts in funding for one of the agencies tasked with its implementation.
As Americans struggle through the coming tax season, they might consider asking their elected representatives to reconsider this approach. For all its faults, the IRS provides essential services not just to the government but to members of the public. It doesn’t help American taxpayers to deprive the agency charged with assisting them through tax season of the resources needed to provide that assistance.