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IRS Will ‘Struggle’ to Answer All Questions on Relief Payments

May 28, 2020, 7:22 PM

The IRS likely won’t be able to respond to all of the questions it receives on coronavirus relief payments to individuals—despite having set up a designated phone line for such inquiries, a Taxpayer Advocate Service analyst said Thursday.

Congress recently approved direct pandemic-aid payments to individuals: up to $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for couples, plus $500 for each child under the age of 17. That has brought a rush of inquiries on incorrect or missing payments.

Treasury’s recent decision to send millions of payments via prepaid debit cards is adding to the confusion.

“It’s going to be a struggle to answer all those questions, to get the taxpayers the answers that they need,” said Joshua Beck, a senior tax analyst in the Attorney Advisor Group of the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service. He spoke Thursday during an American Bar Association tax section webcast.

Many individuals are mistaking the prepaid debit card payments for scams or junk mail because they’re sent in plain white envelopes from a sender with whom they’re unfamiliar, several Democratic members of the House Ways and Means Committee wrote Thursday. They asked Treasury to provide an update by June 2 on the delivery method, which they warned could delay the provision of emergency assistance to desperate Americans.
The IRS said this month that it would add 3,500 telephone representatives to answer aid payment questions. But it has difficulty maintaining adequate phone service even when it’s operating under normal conditions.

In 2008—the time of the last such aid payments—it wasn’t facing facility closures and staffing reductions like it is today, but the level of service on its phone lines was still just 50%, about 30% lower than its target, Beck said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; David Jolly at djolly@bloombergtax.com

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