CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus: When is the IRS opening back up?

The IRS was forced to shutter its services to protect its staff from the coronavirus but has started to call employees back for "mission-critical functions"

Coronavirus: When is the IRS opening back up?
SPENCER PLATT AFP

The IRS called back 10,000 its workers at the end of April. They have since added 3,500 phone operators to assist with stimulus check, tax and unemployment queries. The coronavirus has caused havoc in the United States with millions of Americans losing their jobs. The Internal Revenue Service had to close down too most of its functions but have since started to bring workers back for "mission-critical functions".

On the IRS' official website, they said: "To protect the public and employees, and in compliance with orders of local health authorities around the country, certain IRS services such as live assistance on telephones, processing paper tax returns and responding to correspondence are extremely limited or suspended until further notice."

The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers and tax professionals to use electronic options to support social distancing and speed the processing of tax returns, refunds and payments. They encourage people to do their business online and even more so now during the pandemic.

The IRS shuttered all of its processing and taxpayer assistance centers at the outbreak of the pandemic to shield its workforce from exposure to the virus, and thousands of its employees have been working remotely since then. They will bring workers back in waves, however, with the first 10,000 or so returning at the end of April and beginning of May.

As of May 17, they have sent out 140 million Economic Impact Payments, or stimulus checks, as part of the CARES Act. They could be set to send out more if the HEROES Act is passed.

Criticism over IRS working conditions

The IRS has been heavily criticised for not providing the necessary protective equipment during the virus. They also asked for volunteers to bring their own masks and said they could make masks from t-shirts if they did not have actual masks according to a memo sent out by the IRS.

“Employees are therefore required to bring personal face coverings for their nose and mouth area when they come to work. As stated in the CDC recommendations, these face coverings can be fashioned from common household materials," the memo said, "such as clean t-shirts or bandanas."

“We are communicating with the IRS about working conditions at those facilities to make sure there are adequate cleaning and disinfecting supplies, accommodations to allow for physical distancing among employees and personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves,” said Tony Reardon, who heads the National Treasury Employees Union.