Millions of paper tax returns go unopened at short-staffed IRS

Monday, June 01, 2020

By TOBY ECKERT Read original article on Politico > 
05/29/2020 06:04 PM EDT
Updated: 05/29/2020 09:48 PM EDT

The IRS estimates that nearly 5 million unopened paper tax returns had piled up at the agency by mid-May amid the closure of its offices nationwide due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report that POLITICO has obtained.

Overall, the IRS estimated it had a backlog of 10 million pieces of mail to open and process as thousands of workers begin returning to the offices on Monday.

In addition to tax returns, the unopened mail includes taxpayer correspondence, information returns and payments, according to the report.

Through May 22, the agency had processed 120 million returns, down 14 percent from the same point in 2019, when the filing deadline was April 15. The deadline was delayed by three months this year because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Nearly 90 percent of the 134 million returns filed so far were sent to the agency electronically, the report said. Filings were down 6.2 percent from 2019, but the average refund — nearly $2,900 — was similar to last year, the report said.

More than 10,000 IRS employees have been told to report to offices in Kentucky, Texas and Utah on Monday. They will focus on mail and return processing, taxpayer refund claims, depositing checks, income verification requests, customer service and telephone assistance, the report said.

Additional employees are expected to be recalled in coming weeks. More than half of the agency’s roughly 81,000 employees have been teleworking.

The report said the IRS “is taking a number of steps to ensure employee safety in our facilities, for example: enforcing social distancing; procuring 1.76 million disposable masks and 188,000 reusable masks; providing hand sanitizer at all facilities and limited quantities of disinfecting wipes (IRS is attempting to procure more); enhanced cleaning; and assessing the ability to modify HVAC operations to provide additional outside air and increase air exchange.”