The IRS wouldn’t commit to keeping an April 15 tax return filing deadline if Congress approves a third round of stimulus payments.
The tax agency has had to reprogram its internal systems for the 2021 filing season to accommodate two rounds of economic impact payments (EIPs) with different eligibility qualifications, and to ensure that tax refunds and refundable credits are distributed, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said during a January 21 Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center webinar on fiscal policy challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can say that the IRS stands ready to serve and assist the American people,” Rettig told moderator Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. However, Rettig declined to commit when Gleckman asked if the IRS could keep its April 15 filing deadline while distributing another round of EIPs.
Reprogramming IT systems for the second round of EIPs, and then for the 2021 filing season, accounted for the IRS’s decision (IR-2021-16) to delay the filing season opening from its usual late-January start to February 12, Rettig explained.
It was systems testing and trying to have “a seamless season where we’re not tied up on the back end” that delayed the 2021 filing season opening, Rettig said.
The IRS has distributed about $735 billion in two cycles of EIPs and 2020 tax refunds since the pandemic began a year ago.
Mail Backlog Eases
At least one 2020 IRS hangover has been relieved — the IRS has cleared its backlog of unopened paper mail, according to Rettig. “The mail is not an issue for us going forward,” he said.
The IRS faced more than 23 million unopened pieces of mail — including paper-filed tax returns and taxpayer correspondence — at processing centers in spring 2020 after Rettig shuttered operations at the start of the pandemic. The backlog was cut to a few million items by the year’s end, he said.
While the IRS is still processing millions of returns and correspondence, “we’re not too far off where we would be in the ordinary course” of filing season preparations, Rettig said.
“The pandemic is still an issue . . . social distancing and all, and that’s what led to the backlog,” Rettig said. “But we’re in a good place.”