IRS, Agricultural Dept. to bring back thousands of furloughed workers

The Internal Revenue Service is bringing back 36,000 more furloughed employees to process tax returns and refunds and the Agriculture Department is recalling around 2,500 workers for three days to process loans to farmers and ranchers.

The additional employees at the IRS, plus a 10,000-person skeleton staff retained after the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, represent about 57 percent of its normal workforce.

The 2,500 USDA employees represent one quarter of the department’s Farm Service Agency.

They are being assigned largely to FSA offices across the country on Jan. 17, 18 and 22 to help farmers with existing loans and tax paperwork, the department said.

Because of the 26-day shutdown, the pay for these returning IRS and Agricultural employees will be deferred until the government reopens.

A USDA spokesperson said the recalled employees represent about one quarter of FSA staff. Employees will not be paid for their work now, but will be eligible for backpay under legislation President Donald Trump is expected to sign Wednesday.

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“Until Congress sends President Trump an appropriations bill in the form that he will sign, we are doing our best to minimize the impact of the partial federal funding lapse on America’s agricultural producers,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

Even before the shutdown began Dec. 21, the IRS stressed on its website that taxpayers were still expected to pay their taxes on time.

The Trump administration later announced that refunds would go out as normal, a step that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said last week appears to be illegal.

“There is no doubt the IRS needs to get ready for the 2019 filing season that starts Jan. 28, and IRS employees want to work, said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasure employees Union. “But the hard, cold reality is that they’ve already missed a paycheck and soon they’ll be asked to work for free for as long as the shutdown lasts.”

“I’m worried whether these employees will have the money to put gas in their car to get to work,” Reardon added.

The union filed a lawsuit last week charging that the Trump administration is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring federal employees to work without pay during the shutdown.

Even with the extra workers on hand, IRS services will be severely restricted. The IRS warns taxpayers to expect heavier call volume than usual and longer wait time despite adding more people to answer phones.

Walk-in assistance centers around the country will remain closed. 

The IRS also says it will not conduct audits during the shutdown period and that anyone who had an appointment to discuss an audit should assume the meeting has been canceled.


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