At least 14,000 furloughed IRS employees called back to work by the Treasury Department haven’t showed up, according to two congressional aides briefed on the matter.
IRS officials told Congress that 26,000 workers in the wage and investment division, which includes processing centers and call centers, have been called back without pay. But 14,000 — more than half — haven’t returned. Of those, 5,000 cited hardships, and 9,000 couldn’t be reached, according to the aides.
An IRS spokesman declined to comment.
The Treasury Department on January 15 ordered furloughed employees to return to work ahead of tax season, scheduled to open next week.
The agency reported that 12,000 employees have returned, according to one House Democratic aide.
The staffing figured were first reported by the Washington Post.
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents roughly 70,000 IRS workers around the country, said it shouldn’t be a surprise that people are experiencing financial hardship and cannot make it into work.
“I don’t believe any should be shocked that many of these middle-class, front-line employees don’t have the gas or the bus fare or the money they need to pay for child care to return to work,” Reardon said in an interview with CNN. “Many of them simply can’t afford the commute.”
The shortage has meant longer waits for callers. According to the aide, the number of calls answered has been around 35 percent, and wait times have averaged 25-40 minutes. Last filing season the wait was 7-10 minutes.
The IRS had already been anticipating a busier-than-usual tax filing season as taxpayers prepare to file for the first time under the new code passed as part of the Republican tax reform in 2017.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday canceled a hearing about the shutdown’s impact on the upcoming tax filing season after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wouldn’t appear, citing a previous speaking engagement.
Facing potential political blowback over the possibility that the shutdown would extend into tax filing season, the agency reversed a long-standing policy that refunds due to individuals and corporations would go unpaid during a shutdown.
“Tax refunds will go out,” Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters on Jan. 7. He added that the Trump administration is working to make the shutdown “as painless as possible, consistent with the law.”