It’s been a daunting job to deliver so much money in just a few months. The IRS had to shut down offices because of the pandemic. While most employees have since returned to work, they are battling a backlog of returns and refunds for the 2020 tax season while still rushing to distribute relief funds.
Overwhelmed, the agency has turned to its Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the IRS, to assist people in resolving certain issues related to their relief payments.
“Although the IRS accurately delivered these payments to the overwhelming majority of eligible individuals, millions still have not received some or all of the amounts Congress authorized, and many desperately need the money,” said Erin Collins, National Taxpayer Advocate.
Starting Aug. 10, TAS will provide an assist to the IRS to correct relief or economic impact payments (EIPs) under five specific situations. Here’s the list of scenarios.
Dependent payments. The IRS created a non-filers tool so that eligible individuals who did not file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 could get a relief payment. Many parents have reported that they received their $1,200 but did not get the extra $500 for each child, or they received money for one child but not for another.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a report in June that some 465,000 relief payments from April 10 to May 17 did not include the $500 for qualifying children. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig later revised the figure down to 365,000.
“These payments are already in process to be issued by direct deposit or mail and should be received in August,” TAS spokesman Kenneth Drexler said. “We are hopeful that these payments will be made without any problems, but if problems arise, TAS will be able to assist.”
In a much-criticized decision, the IRS issued a special alert on April 20 on its website giving individuals — Social Security retirement, survivor, disability or Railroad Retirement beneficiaries — about 48 hours to claim their $500 payments. If they missed the very short window, they have to wait until 2021 to get the money. A similarly tight deadline of May 5 was set for people who receive Supplemental Security Income or Veterans Affairs benefits.
Unfortunately, the assistance from TAS doesn’t extend to any of the federal benefit recipients who missed the deadlines to enter information about their dependent children.
“Since the IRS has figured out a way to issue supplemental dependent EIPs to the benefit recipients who used the portal, why can’t they let the ones who missed the short deadline enter their info now, and apply the same matching algorithm to get supplemental payments to them?” asked former taxpayer advocate Nina Olson, who is now executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights.
Injured spouses. The Cares Act allows an “offset,” or the withholding of relief funds, for individuals who owe back child support. Individuals can file IRS Form 8379 to seek an “Injured Spouse Allocation” — in this case, to avoid having their half of an economic impact payment withheld. But the IRS mistakenly offset relief payments to people who filed that form.
Return math errors. Individuals whose EIP was based on a 2018 or 2019 tax return that contained bad math, resulting in a lower relief payment, will get assistance.
Identity theft victims. Victims of identity theft who did not receive an EIP, or who received the wrong amount, will get help.
Surviving spouses or spouses of incarcerated individuals. The IRS issued relief checks to the incarcerated and some $1.4 billion in payments to people who had died since the beginning of 2018. In response to criticism, the Treasury Department decided such payments had to be returned.
But spouses of the deceased or incarcerated may still be entitled to their portion of the relief money. In cases where a spouse’s payment was not issued, or was returned or canceled, TAS will work to get the EIP issued to the surviving or non-incarcerated spouse.
In the coming week, TAS, which can be reached at 877-777-4778, will provide more details about taxpayers with EIP issues who might qualify for assistance, Collins said in a blog post.
As helpful as this effort should be for folks who fall into the five categories, it’s inexcusable for our government to leave out so many other people at a time when they need help the most.