IRS Warns of Possible Delays in Anti-Poverty Program

IRS Warns of Possible Delays in Anti-Poverty Program


IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig warned Congress that his agency may have a hard time executing a new program designed to reduce child poverty.

In testimony Thursday in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rettig said the tax agency is struggling with a massive backlog of tax returns and recent rule changes, including the extension of the tax filing deadline. On top of those significant challenges, Congress recently authorized an expansion of the child tax credit system, which requires the IRS to send checks to millions of households starting in July.

Through the new tax credit, which was part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Democrats pushed through Congress last week, eligible families will receive refundable tax credits of $3,600 for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 for those aged 6 to 17. The credits are to be paid out on a regular basis, unlike more typical tax credits that come into play only when tax returns are filed.

Rettig told lawmakers that the IRS may not have enough staff to set up a new website that will serve as a communications hub for households and the government, enabling individuals to provide key information such as income or marital status. Pushing the tax deadline back a month means that the agency now has “one month less to do the development” necessary to create that crucial communications portal, Rettig said.

A key issue is the timing of the payments, which was left ambiguous in the program’s authorization. Proponents want checks sent out on a monthly basis, but Rettig said that it “might be a challenge to get into monthly right out of the box.” Nevertheless, “we intend to do our best to get there,” he added.

Why it matters: The effectiveness of the child tax credit, which proponents say could cut child poverty in half, depends on successful implementation by an already overburdened IRS. More broadly, the issue highlights the enormous challenges facing the new administration in implementing new programs quickly.

“Rettig’s comments Thursday illustrate the massive undertaking that awaits the Biden administration as it seeks to bring online one of the largest rescue packages in U.S. history,” The Washington Post’s Tony Room wrote. “The government must distribute aid to states and localities, send funds to schools and public health agencies in need, and dispatch another round of stimulus payments, all the while rethinking elements of the tax code — right in the middle of a still-evolving pandemic.”