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US Reps. Urge IRS To Speed Virus Checks, Fix Online Tools

By Stephen Cooper · July 16, 2020, 4:59 PM EDT

A bipartisan group of 111 House lawmakers requested Thursday that the Internal Revenue Service end delays in sending out pandemic relief stimulus checks and update its online tools for taxpayers to check the status of their missing payments.

The lawmakers' letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig was in response to growing complaints from constituents who say the agency has been unable to process economic impact payments authorized in March by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act .

The agency's Get My Payment web-based tool provides unclear or incorrect information about payment status, and the call volume is too high for taxpayers to get help via the IRS telephone assistance number, the lawmakers wrote in the letter. The effort was spearheaded by Washington Democrats Suzan DelBene and Denny Heck, along with Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Jackie Walorski of Indiana.

"While the IRS claims that all issues may ultimately be resolved with 2020 tax filings in the next calendar year, for many of our constituents, that wait is simply untenable," the lawmakers wrote.

Constituents are facing "increased financial hardship" as the pandemic continues and they wait for stimulus payments or for an error in the payment to be resolved, they said.

The CARES Act authorized the IRS to send out checks of $1,200 to individual taxpayers and $2,400 to couples filing joint tax returns, subject to income caps. The payments were intended to blunt the economic impact from governments requiring businesses to close and protect Americans from the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Even though the IRS has calculated nearly all of the virus payments correctly, the agency ran afoul of lawmakers and the public as the program initially began sending out checks. Some payments were delayed to nonfilers and those who mailed in their returns rather than file them electronically. The federal government also sent $1.4 billion worth of pandemic-related stimulus payments to people who had died, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in June.

In April, Democrats complained that payments may have been rerouted to banks instead of taxpayers for those who may have received an advance on their tax refunds through third-party preparation services. The rerouting either delayed the payments' distribution or in some cases resulted in their being returned back to the Treasury.

A representative of the IRS didn't respond to requests for comment.

Lawmakers said that a special email inbox for congressional inquiries isn't adequately staffed by the IRS to handle claim volume. Constituents report that follow-up contact with the agency in response to those congressional inquiries is "simply reiterations of publicly available information," the lawmakers said in the letter.

They urged the IRS to expand its capacity for casework assistance for payment claims and resolve the issues in a timely manner.

--Additional reporting by David van den Berg, Mike LaSusa and Dylan Moroses. Editing by Vincent Sherry. 

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