The IRS needs help. Its chief says millions are waiting on tax returns and can't get through via phone: 'This is frustrating for taxpayers and for us.'

The IRS needs help. Its chief says millions are waiting on tax returns and can't get through via phone: 'This is frustrating for taxpayers and for us.'
Charles Rettig.Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
  • The IRS is understaffed and underfunded, leading to difficulties processing returns and returning calls.
  • IRS commissioner Charles Rettig wrote an op-ed outlining the situation for Yahoo! Money.

The 2022 tax season is already haunted by the ghosts of tax seasons past, as the IRS contends with a backlog of millions of returns and an underfunded and understaffed workforce.

On Tuesday, IRS commissioner Charles Rettig penned an op-ed for Yahoo! Money outlining some of the issues that the agency was facing — and discussed the efforts that the IRS was making to get taxpayers their refunds and a response.

It ultimately boils down to one primary issue. "Without long-term, predictable funding, the IRS will continue to face severe limitations, unable to provide the service taxpayers deserve and need," Rettig writes.

It's the latest alarm bell from the agency about the impact of both shrinking funding and staffing as the pandemic hoisted new responsibilities like child tax credit checks and stimulus payments on the agency.

As Insider previously reported, both Treasury officials and the IRS itself have warned about the challenges that the IRS faces going into the 2021 tax season without adequate funding. The agency's budget has fallen by over 20% in the last decade, according to the Tax Policy Center, and Rettig said it has "as few employees as it did in the 1970s."


The IRS already entered the 2021 tax season with 5 million pieces of taxpayer correspondence, according to national taxpayer advocate Erin Collins. Collins said that the agency was still sitting on 6 million unprocessed original individual returns, and 2.3 million amended returns. Those amount to millions of taxpayers waiting on returns, with many waiting for nine months. The Washington Post's Lisa Rein and Tony Romm reported that the backlog was actually closer to almost 24 million.

"Today, millions of people are still waiting for prior years' returns to be processed, and refund checks to arrive in the mail, while preparing for their upcoming tax filing," Rettig writes. "While we can't immediately solve these significant issues, our employees are doing everything they can, and I am committed to returning to normal inventory levels before next year."

Insider previously reported that refund delays have disrupted some Americans' finances as they wait on thousands from the IRS. They're struggling to afford groceries, childcare, and even their homes.

Healthcare worker Kathie Kong previously told Insider that she wakes up early every morning to try to get through to the IRS when the lines open at 7:00. She's still waiting on $5,000 from her 2020 tax refund, which she said she'd use to pay for childcare.

"I pay for childcare just to go to work. It's been hard because the money that I make is not that much and childcare is expensive," the mother of five said. She added that getting her tax return and child-tax-credit money would mean she wouldn't "have to worry about how I'm going to pay for childcare this month."


Rettig writes that the IRS touches more Americans "than any other private or public sector organization—and we are deeply proud to serve our country," and said that the agency had implemented measures like mandatory overtime, surge teams, and modernization to tackle the situation.

"For the current tax season, the IRS workforce has already delivered more than 4 million refunds worth nearly $10 billion just through Feb. 4," Rettig wrote. "And yet millions are waiting for their returns to be processed, and many won't be able to reach us when they call with questions this filing season. This is frustrating for taxpayers and for us."

Democrats had been trying to funnel some major investments towards the IRS. While Build Back Better was still in contention — it's currently paused as Senator Joe Manchin mulls, what, exactly, he wants — the legislation would've invested $80 billion in the IRS. The Treasury estimated that investment would bring in $700 billion of revenue.

"The reality at the IRS is that we know we need to do better, we're committed to doing better, and we are trending in a positive direction," Rettig writes. "Our employees are doing everything they can. But we need help."

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