WASHINGTON – At a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing this morning, Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.) highlighted the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) progress in implementing the landmark legislation in its first tax season. He also underscored the need for Congress to provide the agency with the resources necessary to provide adequate customer service and support to taxpayers.
“Millions of Americans now have quality, affordable health care because of the Affordable Care Act,” Sen. Carper said. “While I believe the Affordable Care Act has significantly improved our nation’s health care, no law is perfect, nor is its implementation. Our job today is to determine what we can do to improve Americans’ access to health care provided by the Affordable Care Act, and the IRS has a major part to play. The IRS has been largely successful so far in its responsibilities under the law. That’s a remarkable accomplishment, especially when you consider how much Congress is requiring the IRS to do, and the fact that Congress has repeatedly enacted deep and damaging cuts to the agency’s budget. However, Congress and the federal government can and should do more.”
For the past five years, Congress has reduced funding for the IRS by $1.2 billion, to its lowest level since 2008. When inflation is taken into account, the current funding level is comparable to that of 1998, even though the number of individual and business tax filers has increased by more than 30 million since then. Because of these budget cuts by Congress, the IRS is significantly hampered in its ability to provide appropriate customer service and support to taxpayers.
As Commissioner Koskinen testified, recent budget cuts, coupled with an increased workload, have had real consequences. In 2014, taxpayers calling the IRS were waiting twice as long for an IRS response than they did in 2009. This year, recent media reports have highlighted the long lines at IRS offices, and the frustration of IRS employees and taxpayers at call centers.
“Although return processing has gone smoothly, both in general and as related to the ACA, it should be noted that our level of customer service this filing season has been unacceptably low, both in person and on the phone, despite the best efforts of our employees,” Commissioner Koskinen testified. “Our low service levels were the result of the budget cuts we have had to absorb. Since 75 percent of the IRS budget is personnel, the agency has been absorbing the budget cuts mainly by reducing our workforce. Our phone level of service at the start of the filing season was 54 percent, and dipped below 40 percent toward the end of filing season. That means more than six out of every 10 people who call could not reach a live assistor. That is truly an abysmal level of service.
“The employees of the IRS will do everything they can to effectively and efficiently deliver next year’s filing season, but we need help,” he continued. He also urged Congress “..to provide us additional resources in the 2016 budget. With that help, I’m much more confident about the chances of delivering another smooth filing season for the nation’s taxpayers this year.”
“By all accounts, the IRS has stepped up and met the new challenge of implementing a key aspect of the Affordable Care Act, despite Congress failing to provide adequate funding,” Sen. Carper said. “That’s important because as we all know, health care is an issue that touches us all personally. It affects each and every one of us, as well as our families. Congress should provide the IRS with the support and resources it needs to continue serving taxpayers, including strong customer service, as the Affordable Care Act continues to be implemented. It is clear that if we don’t help the IRS do this, and instead we continue to underfund the agency, we’re simply setting Commissioner Koskinen and his team up to fail. That would be irresponsible. Congress must help, not hinder, the agency and provide it with the resources and flexibility it needs to do its job and do it well.”