We welcome back frequent commenter and occasional guest blogger Bob Kamman with a glimpse of a new Spanish language version of Form 1040 the IRS has tested before as Bob tells us from his research into the history of the form. He also refers to the music the IRS might add to its call line and that reminded me of a post I wrote in the second year of the blog. Keith
The idea was rejected by IRS in 1971 and tested with little success in 1994. But IRS has announced an “aggressive step” that for the next tax season, Form 1040 will be available in Spanish. According to the IRS press release:
“As part of a larger effort to reach underserved communities, the Internal Revenue Service is taking a number of aggressive steps to expand information and assistance available to taxpayers in additional languages, including providing the Form 1040 in Spanish for the first time.”
Will the numerous schedules and forms that must be attached to some Ten Forty (Diez Cuarenta) returns also be available in Spanish? How about the 1040 instructions? IRS does not tell us. But the press release notes:
“Other changes include Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, is now available in 20 languages. The 2020 version of Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, will be available early next year in seven languages – English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional).”
It’s accurate for IRS to claim that this is the first time for Form 1040 to have an official translation, although the Form 1040-PR is in Spanish. (That form is used by some residents of Puerto Rico to report self-employment income and to claim the additional child tax credit.)
However, in 1994 IRS tested Spanish versions of Form 1040A in Southern California and Florida. That “simplified” IRS form no longer exists. The purpose was described then as “aimed at increasing tax revenue.”
An IRS spokesperson in California told the Los Angeles Times, in an article published January 28, 1994:
“Most people want to comply but they don’t know how to and can’t understand the forms. The IRS isn’t concerned about [which language a person speaks or] legal or illegal status . . . We just want the taxes.”
A spokesperson for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) of Orange County, California, saw the Spanish forms as a way to decrease tax-preparer fraud. “It may minimize the exploitation of the immigrant community by those who file their taxes,” he said. The Times article reported that “it will also give immigrants, who are often accused of feeding off the public welfare system, a chance to ‘pay their fair share of taxes,’ [the MALDEF spokesperson] said.”
Two members of Congress from Orange County objected, however. Representative Ron Packard, who served from 1983 to 2001, criticized the $100,000 cost of the test, claiming the forms were a waste of money that would just make tax collection more confusing. “Will the United States government print forms . . . for all of the thousands of different languages spoken and written by people in this country?” he asked. “At a time when the federal government faces unprecedented fiscal constraints, this does not represent a prudent use of taxpayer funds.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who retired in 2019 after 20 years, said the Congressman believed all government business should be conducted in English and all forms should be printed in English.
What conclusions did IRS draw from the 1994 trial of Spanish tax returns? A July 27, 1994 article in the South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel reported that the program cost taxpayers about $157 per completed return:
“The IRS printed about 500,000 Spanish-language 1040A forms and distributed them in districts in South Florida and the Los Angeles area. The translation, printing and distribution of the forms cost about $113,000. As of the middle of May, a total of 718 Americans had filed their tax returns on the forms, called 1040A Espanol, the IRS said.”
Well, at least they tried. In 1971, Representative Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas, ten years into his 38-year career in Congress, asked IRS to provide a Spanish translation of Form 1040. IRS wrote him back that “practical difficulties” prevented this. James N. Kinsel, described as “IRS tax forms chairman,” wrote that “one of these difficulties is the number of different languages which might have to be given this treatment. Another difficulty stems from our processing and audit activities, and the possible need to employ large numbers of bilingual technicians.”
Instead, Rep. Gonzalez was told that IRS puts Spanish-speaking workers in income tax assistance offices in areas of the country with high Mexican-American population, and was working on a Spanish-language pamphlet concerning income tax.
Of course, in the Internet era, most of the printing and distribution costs of translated forms are gone. But as IRS becomes increasingly dependent on private enterprise, will software providers like TurboTax and the coalition that sponsors Free File make it easier for taxpayers to prepare returns in a language other than English? And how many states will translate their income tax forms and instructions?
Optimistically, IRS tells us that it will allow taxpayers to indicate their choice of language when IRS contacts them. As the press release notes:
“In addition to being available in English and Spanish, the 2020 Form 1040 will also give taxpayers the opportunity to indicate whether they wish to be contacted in a language other than English. This is a new feature available for the first time this coming filing season.”
It might be more useful if taxpayers were given a choice of music for listening on hold. Mariachi, Salsa or K-pop?
By the way, the Taxpayer Advocate is called the “Defensor” in Spanish, which translates to “Defender.” This may remind some of the 1961-65 television series starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed, and others of the recent Netflix series starring the Marvel Comics heroes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist.