With help from Aaron Lorenzo
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— The IRS said over the weekend it had improved the web tool that offers information on direct stimulus payments and allows people to input their bank information.
— The tax collector is also asking thousands of employees to come back to work in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, with their own face masks and safety gear.
— Increased aid for state and local governments might be the biggest landmine in the next round of coronavirus response negotiations, but top Democrats and governors at least sounded confident over the weekend.
WEEK SEVEN OF WFH is here, and it could be a wild one, if this news is any indication.
Well, this all sounds very 1980s: Today marks 34 years since “Captain Midnight” hacked into HBO as the channel was transitioning from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” to “The Falcon and the Snowman.” (Long story short: Captain Midnight installed satellite dishes, and he was protesting that HBO had moved to scramble its signal for dish users.)
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WHERE IS MY MONEY? Treasury and the IRS say they shuttled some 88 million payments out the door in the three weeks after Congress authorized the phase three coronavirus package, but the IRS is still making improvements to its online “Get My Payment” application.
The department and the tax collector announced “significant enhancements” to the web tool on Sunday, without spelling out what changes they had made. An IRS official later expanded upon the statement, noting the improvements included letting people get a payment status update for closed bank accounts; providing better access for those who filed 2018 tax returns without getting a direct deposit but haven’t yet filed for 2019; and allowing users to submit zero when someone is asked whether they got a refund or owed the IRS taxes.
Also of note: The IRS is in the midst of sending a second large chunk of payments out, as The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reported, largely to people who uploaded their direct deposit information to the web tool by the middle of last week, along with recipients of Social Security or Social Security disability benefits.
And: Our Kyle Cheney and Sarah Ferris examined the “rising angst” among lawmakers about how their various coronavirus responses are being administered and implemented, including the IRS’ work on stimulus checks. (It should be noted that lots of experts have praised the IRS’ work on those payments so far.)
WELCOME BACK: It certainly raised some eyebrows when House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and the chairman of the committee’s oversight subcommittee, John Lewis (D-Ga.), circulated a memo showing that IRS employees coming back to work would likely have to fend for themselves on coronavirus protections.
Neal and Lewis noted, as Pro Tax’s Toby Eckert reported, that it made perfect sense the IRS would have to bring some people back with mail piling up in trailers and the agency generally struggling to handle its normal filing season work as it also juggles sending out hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus payments. (In all, about 10,000 staffers are being requested for now, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.)
The agency tried to soften the blow on Sunday, releasing a statement asserting that employee safety remained the top concern of IRS brass, that it was asking but not ordering staffers back, and that “no employees have been requested to return to work in a manner inconsistent with federal COVID-19 guidelines.”
“Employees can use any face covering that is consistent with CDC recommendations, including those fashioned from common household materials,” the statement added. “The IRS also has been working to obtain PPE for our employees and expect many to be delivered as early as this weekend and upcoming week.”
LET’S SEE HOW THIS GOES: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might be talking down the idea of more aid to states and localities that are seeing their tax bases crumbling, but senior administration officials and allies sound like they’re at least considering the idea.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, like McConnell, worked against adding aid to those governments in the most recent coronavirus package. But appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said that kind of assistance is “something we’ll consider,” adding: “if we need to spend more money we will, and we’ll only do it with bipartisan support.”
Kevin Hassett, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, added on ABC’s “This Week” that the bankruptcy idea floated by McConnell probably wouldn’t fly and that there’d likely need to be a bipartisan agreement to help states.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi basically saw matters the same way, though she made that point with a harder edge and took direct aim at McConnell as she sympathized with governors who are getting antsy at the lack of action in Washington. “The state and local have done their jobs magnificently. They should be impatient. Their impatience will help us get an even bigger number,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” while also asserting that Democrats had already pushed McConnell to go further than he wanted on other coronavirus measures.
As for the states themselves: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who chairs the National Governors Association, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “I think we’re making real progress” in talks with the administration.
FIRST LOOK: A group of advocates for the entertainment industry is pushing congressional leaders to consider tax relief for a range of people working in film, television, music and theater in a letter to be sent today. Almost 20 groups in all, including the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Recording Industry Association of America, backed a measure from Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), H.R. 3121 (116), that would allow more people in those industries to take the miscellaneous itemized deductions that were largely curtailed in the 2017 tax law, H.R. 1 (115). (The bill would allow individuals making up to $100,000 a year and couples making up to $200,000 a year to take those deductions, and allow for the writing off of expenses common in the entertainment industry, like union dues, travel costs and hiring talent agents.)
“Updating the Qualified Performing Artist deduction in the current tax code to expand work-related deductions will provide relief for middle class working performers who are affected by COVID-19 production shutdowns,” Gabrielle Carteris, SAG-AFTRA president, said in a statement to Morning Tax. (Yes, that name should sound familiar to readers who lived through the flannel era.)
GONNA HAVE TO WAIT: The Swiss banking power UBS had been set to have its day in French court in June — but no more, and it’s all because of the coronavirus, Bloomberg reports. France hit UBS with a 4.5 billion euro fine (around $4.9 billion) for helping clients hide money from the government, but the Paris Court of Appeals was forced to postpone the bank’s appeal because of Covid-19. (A new date is likely to be set later in the year.) The French government has stepped up its crackdown on tax fraud in recent years, and UBS was convicted last year for, among other things, sending bankers over the border to gin up new clients.
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NOT ANYMORE! Here’s another issue that headed to the scrap pile because of the coronavirus — the potential repeal of state taxes on Social Security income in Minnesota. Republicans, who control the state Senate there, have shelved that idea for now because of fiscal restrictions caused by Covid-19, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. Senate Republicans had made exempting Social Security income from taxes a key part of their proposal to deal with a $1.3 budget surplus, with supporters of the idea noting that barely a dozen states tax Social Security. With that idea shunted to the side, the state legislature is expected to consider as soon as later this week delaying tax deadlines and offering other assistance to businesses in a more targeted coronavirus response.
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The entertainer Will Rogers was the first honorary mayor of Beverly Hills, Calif.