Taxpayers are waiting on long lines in front of the Internal Revenue Service’s Taxpayer Assistance Centers for routine services this tax season, as the IRS’s budget crunch even limits the number of printed tax forms the agency can distribute.
In the aftermath of five years of budget cuts, the IRS has been cutting back on staffing and hours to services taxpayers. The New York Post reported Thursday that taxpayers were waiting for hours outside the IRS’s offices in Lower Manhattan.
The IRS actually ran out of preprinted tax forms and reportedly didn’t even have the extra blank paper available to print out more forms. This tax season, the IRS was forced to stop distributing paper tax forms to public libraries and many post offices, as it has for decades, and is urging taxpayers to go online and print out the forms themselves.
However, for lower-income taxpayers who don’t have a computer and printer, that’s a problem. One taxpayer from the Bronx told the New York Post that he had visited six public libraries and two IRS offices in Harlem and Lower Manhattan in pursuit of a Form 1040EZ and come up empty.
The Washington Post also reported long lines outside the IRS’s Taxpayer Assistance Center in Dallas, where many taxpayers were turned away waiting for routine services, even when they showed up early in the day. The office printer was removed because the maintenance contract was deemed too costly, and the shelves in the room where preprinted forms are normally stocked were reportedly bare.
Taxpayers are having trouble getting through to the IRS by telephone this season as well, with the IRS able to answer less than 40 percent of the calls it receives this tax season, forcing many taxpayers to resort to visiting the IRS offices in person (see Declining IRS Workforce Leaving Calls Unanswered).
Congress has cut the IRS budget by a total of $1.2 billion since fiscal year 2011, and the IRS reports that it is now at its lowest level of funding since 2008. However, Congress appears to be in little mood to restore the budget cuts in the wake of the Tea Party targeting scandal.
The head of the union representing IRS employees, National Treasury Employees Union national president Colleen M. Kelley, told reporters Monday in a conference call about reports she had received from front-line IRS personnel about the impact of the budget cuts. “At a walk-in site, a Taxpayer Assistance Center, in Farmers Branch, Texas, they say that ‘taxpayers state they are standing in line outside of the building beginning at 4 AM. Families are trying to submit their W-7 applications to get ITIN numbers at the Taxpayer Assistance Center, and they’re standing there for six hours or more. In order to get those numbers, every applicant in the family has to be present. That includes young children, who are often subjected to cold weather and rain, while they’re standing outside waiting to get into the building.’ She continued, ‘as front-line employees, we get yelled at, papers are thrown at us, we are spoken down to. The demand is just too high for the resources that we have available to us.’”