IRS has 1 million unprocessed returns and 3 million pieces of unopened mail after COVID-19 wreaked havoc on tax season

The Internal Revenue Service still has about one million 2019 tax returns to process after the coronavirus pandemic and distribution of millions of stimulus checks upended operations, the agency’s commissioner told federal lawmakers this month.

a man wearing a suit and tie looking at the camera: IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, at an October hearing, ahead of his November update on the 2020 tax season.

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IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, at an October hearing, ahead of his November update on the 2020 tax season.

“We have done all that we can really do,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, talking to members of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. He said the committee still hears from constituents who haven’t received their refunds this year.


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The approximate one million still-unprocessed returns are down from 2.5 million unopened returns in October, the last time Rettig testified about IRS operations in a tax season like none other. There’s now 3 million pieces of unopened mail, down from 5.3 million.

There are currently 6.8 million returns in process — which, Rettig explained, are returns that have gone through the IRS systems.

“On behalf of the Internal Revenue Service and every employee, for literally every American, we appreciate the patience and understanding,” Rettig said. “This is not an excuse, but I will say that our employees went through the same exact thing as every other American during COVID with respect to health and safety concerns.”

The agency had 59,000 staffers teleworking this week, a record for the IRS, he noted. The IRS is offering weekend shifts and overtime to get the work done, he added.

Rettig addressed a subcommittee chaired by Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey. In his opening remarks, Pascrell said he had a constituent who heard from the IRS not to expect a response on a 2019 tax return until January 2021.

“January?” he asked, also noting there are still people who are waiting for stimulus checks.

Saturday, Nov. 21, marked final day for people who have not filed income taxes to register on the IRS nonfiler portal to get their $1,200 stimulus check ahead of next tax season.

IRS officials have reached out directly with more than 4,000 shelters to connect people who are homeless with their stimulus check, Rettig said.

The hearing comes two months ahead of Joe Biden’s start as president and Pascrell noted the IRS commissioner is a presidential appointee who can stay or go depending on the president’s determination.

Rettig, a Trump administration appointee, said he doesn’t plan to offer a resignation ahead of any request from the Biden administration to step down. Rettig’s term, on paper, runs through 2022.

Some observers doubt Biden would replace Rettig.

Pascrell asked Rettig to offer his resignation “to the incoming president to facilitate the transition to the new administration.”

The lawmaker was critical of Rettig for not providing President Donald Trump’s tax returns. The committee has sued for the tax returns in a case that’s gone up to the Supreme Court and been remanded to the lower courts.

Pascrell pressed Rettig if he would give Trump’s tax returns to the committee if he as asked to do so once the Biden administration takes over.

Rettig said he couldn’t discuss Trump’s tax returns because of pending litigation. “I cannot answer the question, sir,” he said.

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