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How the Government Shutdown Affects IRS Handling of Your Tax Return

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The federal government shut down at midnight on Friday, Jan. 19th after the Senate failed to pass a continuing spending resolution that would have funded the government going forward.  How does it affect you and your tax return?

What will that mean to your taxes?

The Internal Revenue Service has opened its Free File online tax preparation and e-filing program. Since the IRS simply acts as the portal to the dozen private tax software manufacturers who actually handle the returns, things there should operate as usual.

That means that the taxpayers’ returns now being filed through Free File will still be queued up, awaiting processing when the 2018 tax filing season officially starts on Monday, Jan. 29.

But what if the federal government is still shut down when that date rolls around?

Again, According to tax experts, there shouldn’t be big problems. Unless the shutdown drags on.

Essential tax work is still conducted: The reason for expected IRS business, as usual, is that the agency has been through this before, most recently just before the October extended tax filing deadline.

During that 16-day federal closure in October 2013, the IRS worked off an official shutdown contingency document, which detailed the tax agency’s preparation for and implementation of a shutdown of its services and offices.

UPDATE, Jan. 19:  The 2018 contingency plan for how the IRS will handle a closure this time, which has been issued by Treasury.

Similar to all other federal agencies, only essential employees remain on the job when there’s a government shutdown.

In the IRS’ case, that means most of its 80,000 or so workers will be sitting at home. They aren’t part of the workforce that, under the “Antideficiency Act,” must stay on the job because they are “activities necessary for the protection of life and property.”

Since the IRS is responsible for the collection of the revenue the United States needs to operate, some of its jobs fall into this essential category.

Five years ago, the IRS shutdown contingency plan designated as essential its employees involved in the processing of tax returns, protection of lien and seizure cases, maintaining building security and facilities personnel and criminal law enforcement operations.

However, this time the agency is keeping more essential workers than in 2013. For a possible 2018 shutdown, Treasury says 35,076 workers, or (43.5 percent of its total staff of 80,565 as of the start of this year) would be classified as excepted/exempt, meaning they would show up to work in the case of a shutdown.

The latest plan also notes that since this potential shutdown, unlike the one in the fall of 2013, could be during the filing season, “the IRS must except additional positions beyond those identified in the Non-Filing Season Plan.”

To be clear—your e-filed tax return, especially if it includes a payment of due tax, should be processed even if most IRS personnel aren’t at work.

Timing complications for refunds:  The last shutdown was well after high tax season. Even so, the IRS did not issue any refunds due on returns filed during the extension period until after the government was up and running again.

Will the agency implement the same hold this year? 

Right now, the contingency plan says yes, issuance of refunds is not in the “must do” category, which means the IRS’ 21-day window in which the IRS says it usually issues 9 out of 10 refunds could get longer.

It is also important to note certain returns (specifically those with Additional Child Tax Credit or Earned Income Tax Credit claims) by law can’t be issued until at least mid-February.  Taking this criterion into consideration, a prolonged shutdown could be problematic for refund seekers.

The government shutdown puts the pressure squarely back on Congress, full of members who are seeking re-election in November. Will it get its act together in order to avoid angering millions of taxpayers anxiously awaiting their tax refunds?

Some services will shut down: As mentioned in a previous article some services will be shut down until Congress comes to some resolution. Begging the question, “will federal tax operations go dark if Congress and the White House can’t come up with an at-least short-term funding deal?”  At present, it is a “wait and see game” for Americans watching Republicans and Democrats point fingers, which does not help in a government shutdown.

People who need help filling out Form 1040 or associated schedules are going to be out of luck if relying on customer service at the IRS.

The much-maligned taxpayer customer service telephone lines likely will go unanswered more than usual. You may be thinking that’s the least of my worries.  The phone system has always been slow.  The IRS2Go Mobile App is an option—check your refund status, make a payment, find free tax preparation assistance, sign up for helpful tax tips, and more. IRS2Go is available in both English and Spanish.

If you need documents from the IRS, even its automated online taxpayer services could be delayed.

The last time American’s were affected by a shutdown (2013), the IRS suspended the following:

  • All audit functions, examination of returns and processing of non-electronic tax returns — yep, paper forms will not be processed because that takes more people to handle them — that do not include payments,
  • Non-automated collections and
  • Legal counsel activities, such as rulings and regulations.

If you think you’re going to need some tax help or documentation from the IRS in order to prepare your taxes in a week or so, having a contingency plan in place for assistance is a suggestion. Visit the IRS website for updates at https://www.irs.gov/

Photo Credit/IRG.Gov

@LeNoraMillen    01-22-18

 

 

 

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Politics

Trump Tweets About an ‘Insecure’ and ‘Biased’ Oprah Winfrey Over Her ’60 Minutes’ Segment

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Oprah Winfrey in a 60 minutes segment with a voter focus group on America’s political divide.  (Photo Courtesy of CBS News).

Donald Trump venting over the FBI and the Russia investigation took to Twitter on Sunday night in a tweetstorm attack on Oprah Winfrey following her “60 Minutes” segment on America’s political divide. Despite his denial of spending time watching television, his response to Winfrey stated otherwise.

“Just watched a very insecure Oprah Winfrey, who at one point I knew very well, interview a panel of people on 60 Minutes,” tweeted Trump, “The questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect. Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like all of the others!”

Winfrey’s report followed up her September segment featuring the same panel of Trump voters and non-Trump voters in the battleground state of Michigan. The goal of the segment was to understand their thoughts on his presidency and direction of the country one year after he took office.

In the wake of Winfrey’s historic #MeToo speech during the Golden Globes in January, an #Oprah2020 movement took root, with many stars – including Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg – calling on Winfrey to consider running. Days later, Trump addressed the speculation, telling the press, “Yeah, I’ll beat Oprah.”

In 1999, Trump thought Winfrey would be a good running mate.  At the time Trump said: “I know her very well. You know, I did one of her last shows. She had Donald Trump – this was before politics – her last week, and she had Donald Trump and my family. It was very nice.”

Oprah Winfrey, despite earlier rumors of a presidential bid, has been clear that she has no intention of running for president.  Making it clear on her intentions she said in a 60 Minutes overtime clip separate from Sunday’s report. “If God actually wanted me to run, wouldn’t God kind of tell me?”

@LeNoraMillen       02-20-18

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Lifestyle

Dodge MLK Super Bowl Ad Sparks Controversy

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A Dodge Super Bowl ad has attracted criticism for its use of a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. to sell trucks.

The ad featured a section of King’s The Drum Major Instinct sermon delivered February 4, 1968, overtop images of American patriotism, including America’s military and other service jobs like teachers and firefighters.

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant,” King is heard saying in the ad. “That’s a new definition of greatness.”

The ad, which ran in support of the Ram Nation volunteer program, also featured images of Dodge trucks. On airing, it began to get immediate blowback.

“The use of MLK to promote Ram trucks strikes many people as crass and inappropriate,” Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University told the Associated Press.

Bernice A. King, the youngest child of the civil rights leader and his wife Coretta Scott King urged people to listen to the sermon “in its entirety.”

“Please listen to/read his speeches, sermons, and writings. Understand his comprehensive teachings and his global perspective. Study his nonviolent philosophy. It’s more than a tactic,” she tweeted, providing a link to the sermon.

A social media user took that message to heart and created a different version of the ad with King’s warning to his congregation from the same sermon that advertisers pressure them to buy more than they can afford, playing on their selfishness and the “drum major instinct” that pushes them to prove that they are better than others.

King said: “They have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. In order to be lovely to love, you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff (…) That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

King said people end up living “their lives trying to outdo the Joneses” rather than building communities around themselves.

The Dodge ad also appeared to some to contradict what King stood for as he famously argued for U.S. military spending to be cut and instead go to programs that served the poorest Americans.

“Are MLK’s words really being used right now to sell cars?” wrote Nicholas Thompson, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine in response to the ad on Twitter.

The King Center distanced itself from the ad, pointing out it was not responsible for approving the use of King’s image and words,

Fiat Chrysler said it worked with King’s estate on the ad, which licenses King’s image and speeches, and is run by King’s son Dexter Scott King. The estate’s managing director, Eric D. Tidwell, said in a statement early Monday: “We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others. Thus we decided to be a part of Ram’s ‘Built To Serve’ Super Bowl program.”

Source: Newsweek

@LeNoraMillen            02-05-18

 

 

 

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Politics

Three Questions About the FISA Court Answered

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The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse houses the FISA court. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci).

On Feb. 2, President Donald Trump allowed the release of the previously classified “Nunes memo.” The memo, written by Republican congressional aides, criticized information used as the basis for a FISA court surveillance application related to the Mueller probe into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 election.

But what exactly is the FISA court? And how does it work?

  1. When was the FISA court established?

Congress passed FISA or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. FISA was originally introduced by Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. The act was largely a response to President Richard Nixon’s misuse of federal resources to investigate U.S. citizens.

Its purpose was to provide oversight for foreign intelligence surveillance activities. These might include tracing telephone and email use, conducting physical searches or accessing business records. FISA lays out guidelines and procedures for these activities.

FISA applies only to “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers.” Basically, this means that FISA is used to gather information about people who work for the governments of other countries. Investigators are typically not allowed to target U.S. citizens under FISA. In fact, if information about a U.S. citizen is accidentally discovered, the law requires those records to be destroyed.

There are some notable exceptions.  One is when the discovered information shows that there is a threat of death or serious harm to another person. Another is that officials can wiretap U.S. citizens while they are overseas. Importantly, FISA warrants can also be requested to monitor U.S. citizens believed to be acting on behalf of a foreign power.

As part of FISA, Congress established the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court.

The FISA court is a U.S. federal court whose purpose is to review and rule on search warrant requests made under FISA. Each year, the FISA court is required to provide a report to Congress of its activities. These reports include the number of requests made under FISA, but not the content of those requests. That content is not a matter of public record.

  1. How is FISA court different from other courts?

FISA court is not like a typical criminal court.

First, Department of Justice officials seeking a warrant do not need to show evidence that a crime has occurred or is about to happen. That sort of evidence, also known as probable cause, would be needed to obtain a typical search warrant in criminal court. Instead, officials only need to provide evidence that the target of surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.

Second, investigators can conduct surveillance for up to a year without a court order if authorized by the president. For this to occur, the U.S. Attorney General has to certify to the court that there is minimal risk that the investigation will turn up information about U.S. citizens. The U.S. Attorney General must also certify to the court that the target of the investigation is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. These requirements parallel what Department of Justice officials would need to demonstrate in FISA court in order to obtain a FISA court warrant.

Third, the FISA court is closed to the public. Unlike a criminal court, there is no jury and the government is the only party present. In other words, FISA court proceedings do not involve prosecutors and defense attorneys arguing on behalf of clients. The FISA court is simply hearing the requests of officials seeking search warrants. This is very similar to what happens when local law enforcement officials seek a search warrant.

However, FISA court records are not open to the public. In rare cases, some records have been released with redacted information. The U.S. president also has the authority to declassify information at his discretion. This is different from normal police investigations, where search warrants generally become public record unless sealed by a judge.

While many state criminal court judges are electedFISA court judges are appointed by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, currently Justice John Roberts.

The eleven FISA judges are selected from across the U.S. federal circuits. These judges may serve for a maximum of seven years. Since not all judges are required at any one time, FISA court judges perform their duties on a rotating basis. They don’t serve full time on the FISA court.

One similarity to a typical criminal court is that an appeals process is available. If a FISA court judge denies a search request, that judge must explain the reasons for the denial. Then, a panel of three federal judges appointed by the chief justice reviews the search request. This panel is called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. If the request is again denied, the U.S. Supreme Court has the authority to review the decision. There is no option for appeal by the person being investigated because he or she is unaware of the surveillance.

  1. How many cases does the FISA court handle?

In 2016, the FISA court reviewed 1,485 requests for surveillance. While higher than the number of requests reviewed in 2014 (1,379) and 2015 (1,457), the number of requests has remained at 1,200 or higher since 2001.

It is rare for these requests to be denied. Of the requests made in 2016, only 34 were rejected. In most years, no requests were denied.

Since the proceedings of the court are secret, it is unclear why these denials occurred or why so few cases were denied.

It is also unclear how the current controversy over the Nunes memo will affect FISA operations in the future, if at all.

Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Pennsylvania State University—Lacey Wallace contributed to this report.  Wallace does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Source: The Conversation

@LeNoraMillen       02-05-18

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