The Internal Revenue Service is bringing back 36,000 more furloughed employees starting this week to create a bare bones staff to process tax returns and send out refunds as tax season gets underway.
The additional employees, plus a 10,000-person skeleton staff retained after the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22, represent about 57 percent of the normal IRS workforce.
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.
Because of the 26-day shutdown, none of the IRS employees will be paid.
“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.