Have you tried to call the IRS lately? Don't bother. On March 30th, the IRS EVACUATED their employees in the wake of COVID-19. NO ONE IS THERE. Just in the past few days, some employees are being asked to come back to work. Any attempt to get them on the phone or have a fax go through is futile. And if you think mailing them a tax return or letter will work, think again! No one has opened their mail almost three months now. In fact, they are storing the backlog of mail in large rented trucks and storage facilities. I have a once-a-week routine of calling some of the IRS fax numbers to see if the machines are even on. My brain is about to explode from the sound of that busy signal.........
What is confusing is that no one really knows which employees in which offices are coming back to work. No one know what functions are going to ramp up and which ones are not.
Last week, us CPAs that are special and have special access to IRS news, were issued a list of what is open right now and what is not. Here goes. See if it makes you feel important or not.
- Automated phone lines. SHOCK! These do not require a live person to be there.
- Processing of Tax Power of Attorneys. Open on a limited basis. Only the Ogden Service Center, which services the West Coast. All others are CLOSED. And great news! I actually got a fax to go through to Ogden late last week! We'll see how long it takes them to process the Power of Attorney.
- Web Services. DUH! Human life is not needed for THAT!
- Office of Chief Counsel. So, if you plan to sue the IRS, their lawyers stand ready to defend themselves. Yes. Just in case........
- Mail. They are not receiving mail. They are not sending most mail. Official IRS Quote here: "...our mail processing functions have been scaled back to comply with social distancing recommendations...." And they go on to say that mail is being piled up and stored or in some cases even returned to the taxpayer if no one is there to handle it.
- Most Phone Lines.
- Processing of Paper Tax Returns. If you did not E-File and instead mailed your return in, it is likely in that huge stack of envelopes in the back of the huge truck.
OUT OF LUCK:
Many taxpayers who filed in late February or later have not yet received their refunds. The IRS portal says "IN PROCESS". And of course, there is no way to find out what exactly that means or when the funds will be sent. This is baffling as the E-filing system is very automated. Some still have not received their Stimulus Checks. Same story. There just isn't much help at the IRS to sort these things out.
But hey!! They extended the due date to July 15th! We should all be excited!
WHEN WILL THEY BE BACK:
"These are uncertain times." Have you heard that phrase before? No one knows. The IRS is moving very slowly and being extremely cautious with their work force. Even with that, some employees and the National Treasury Employees Union (did you know they were a union?) are expressing grave concern over opening up too early. While the IRS offices themselves appear to be safe due to distancing of desks and offices and the use of masks, there are concerns about safety in other areas. Like, "...is it safe to take the city bus to work? Is it safe to take the train? What are we doing about the children? There's no school and summer camps are closed." They've also gone as far as to say now is a good time to rethink the role of the IRS and how underfunded it is. Maybe they'll never open back up!
My favorite quote from all of this comes from Debbie Mullikin, head of the union: "I understand that, you know, the United States citizens have a right to expect us to do our jobs. I don't disagree with that at all. I'm just glad that management has seen fit to do it in a fashion that is safe for the employees. No one wants to die to make sure somebody's tax return is accurate." BOOM! Does that mean audits will go down now??
Finally, Nina Olson, former taxpayer advocate, (that means she used to protect taxpayers from the IRS) predicts that it will be 18 months before the IRS catches up with its backlog, wich will lead to some seriously delayed refund checks for taxpayers, especially if you did not E-file.
And that is LIFE IN THE TAX LANE! It's a heck of a bumpy ride right now. HANG ON TIGHT. And don't forget your helmet. And mask. And hand sanitizer. And to keep your distance. And.................