The Internal Revenue Service is having a tough time processing tax returns this year, potentially delaying refunds for many Americans. Among the many challenges the agency faces: Out-of-order printers and copiers.
"IRS employees stated that the only reason they could not use many of these devices is because they are out of ink or because the waste cartridge container is full," the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration wrote about the copiers and printers in a report released on Friday. "The contract for supplies and service of the printers ended in September 2020."
Sixty-nine out of the 164 devices — or 42%— used by the submission processing functions were not usable as of March 30, 2021, the watchdog found.
The report also noted that a substantial backlog from last year, a late start to the filing season, and too few staffers are contributing to the agency's slow pace.
As of March 5, 2021, the agency issued 36 million tax refunds down, 32% from the same time last year when 52.7 million refunds were processed.
'Remain concerned about the IRS’s continued challenges'
While the filing season opened on February 12 — a delayed start compared with previous years — the agency is still grappling with 2019 tax returns and a lack of staff.
At the end of 2020, the IRS had a backlog of more than 11.7 million paper returns, both individual and business, that needed to be processed. The backlog for individual returns was nearly 20 times higher than at the end of 2019.
While the IRS increased its hiring goals for the 2021 fiscal year, they have been unable to hire as many employees as needed, the report found. The agency met only 37% of its staffing goal, hiring 2,021 out of the 5,473 people it needs. Too few applicants and problems processing applications delayed hiring.
"We remain concerned about the IRS’s continued challenges in hiring sufficient staff needed to work backlog inventory and process Tax Year 2020 tax returns at the same time," the report said. "The inability of the IRS to hire sufficient staff could further affect taxpayers awaiting refunds."
Calls going unanswered
Many taxpayers with unprocessed returns may have trouble contacting the understaffed IRS, further delaying their refunds.
The agency's telephone representatives answered only 4.4 million calls out of 46.3 million total attempts made by taxpayers to contact the IRS. As of March 5, the IRS addressed only 27% of received calls, down from 59% in 2020 when the IRS was struggling amid the pandemic.
There's still just over a week left in the filing season. The tax deadline was been pushed to May 17 from the typical April 15 date, largely because of some major changes this year.
Taxpayers can claim the first and second round of stimulus checks on their 2020 taxes as a Recovery Rebate Credit if they didn't receive a stimulus payment or received the wrong amount.
Additionally, the IRS recently announced that jobless workers who already filed their taxes and are eligible for the newly-implemented tax break on the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits do not need to amend their return if they filed already. Instead, the agency will send a second refund automatically for the difference.