(CNN/Donna Borak) — Americans may find themselves missing an agency they usually love to hate if the government shutdown persists: the Internal Revenue Service.
A protracted fight between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders to fund the government could delay payouts of tax refunds to millions of Americans who are owed money.
The country’s tax collector is among the federal agencies affected by the government shutdown, now in its second week.
The IRS is currently working under non-filing season shutdown plans and will be updating it ahead of the upcoming tax season as soon as Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The possibility of a lengthy stalemate could complicate this year’s tax season, the first under the new law passed by Congress in 2017.
During a shutdown, the IRS typically doesn’t perform audits, pay refunds or offer assistance to taxpayers if they have questions, especially outside of the filing season. And while some of the lights may still be on in the building, the agency is currently operating with only 12.5% of its workforce, or fewer than 10,000 federal employees.
“It does throw a little bit of wrench into things,” said Kyle Pomerleau, economist at the Tax Foundation. “To the extent that individuals are relying on the refund any delay is going to be a negative.”
Tax filing season usually begins in mid-January, and if the shutdown is resolved by then it may have little lasting impact on taxpayers. The IRS has yet to announce when individuals and businesses can begin submitting their income tax returns.
But any gap in individuals not receiving money they’re owed will only intensify pressure on Trump and lawmakers to strike a deal quickly.
Many consider it a major financial windfall that they use to help cover costly expenses or boost their yearly savings. Those who need the refunds the most are also usually among the first to file during the January to April tax season.
“Under the shutdown, most Internal Revenue Service operations have stopped. According to a contingency plan covering the final weeks of December, about seven in eight of the agency’s nearly 80,000 employees have been sent home.
That plan does not make clear, though, what the I.R.S. will do as the shutdown extends into January. (Tax filing season has not yet begun, but the agency will no doubt face plenty of questions from filers over the recent tax law changes.)
[President Trump and Democrats could not break an impasse over his request of funding for a border wall.]
The agency, which did not respond to a request for comment, may bring in more workers to prepare for tax season, but it generally does not answer taxpayer questions or pay tax refunds during a shutdown, according to The Wall Street Journal. If the shutdown ends within a few weeks, it is unlikely to seriously affect most taxpayers.