As the government website for America's poorest families
up for the monthly child tax credit
remains inaccessible, Democrats
' top tax policy senator, Sen. Ron Wyden
(Ore.), is demanding answers from the Internal Revenue Service
On Thursday morning, Wyden, the chairman of the powerful Senate
Finance Committee, sent a strongly worded letter to IRS
Commissioner Charles Rettig urging the IRS to fix persistent technological issues with the child tax credit's non-filer portal, the online tool that low- and no-income families must use to sign up for the benefit.
According to a copy of the letter obtained by Stardia, Wyden wrote to Rettig, “If this inadequacy is not addressed, millions of American families may be denied the opportunity to provide a more secure future for their children
and break the cycle of poverty for so many.”
“While I deeply appreciate the tireless work
of the IRS’s dedicated staff in quickly putting up this critical resource, I am concerned that technological and design constraints on the portal will prevent America’s most vulnerable communities – those who make so little income that they previously did not file – from even applying for this important funding,” he added.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
flatly denied that the non-filer tool for the child tax credit was difficult to use. Wyden's letter represents a shift in Democrats' stance from last week.
Schumer insisted that the website was "very simple and easy to use." Wyden, too, at the time
, emphasized the importance of a public education
campaign to help families sign up.
On July 15, the IRS began distributing monthly checks to parents and guardians of children under the age of 17 as part of President Joe Biden
's signature $2 trillion COVID-19
relief package, the American Rescue Plan
. Families with nearly 60 million children received checks of up to $300 per child and will continue to receive the benefit monthly until the end of the year.
The benefit is worth up to $3,600 per child and is available to anyone, including those who do not pay taxes
, making it the largest anti-poverty program approved by Congress
The benefit was automatically provided to 90% of eligible families, but the remaining 10%, which included extremely poor families who did not earn enough money
to pay taxes, had to sign up for it.
Nonprofit and legal aid organizations from across the country have been warning for weeks that the government's sign-up tool is too difficult to use.
The website is only available in English and is difficult to use on mobile devices, which are the primary means of access for poor families to the internet; it also necessitates a level of tax literacy that is often too difficult for those who do not normally have to file taxes to understand.
issues are not new. When the IRS distributed the Economic Impact
Payments, also known as coronavirus stimulus checks
, the government used a separate but identical portal for non-filers. Both the White House
and the IRS have acknowledged that tool is also inaccessible to many.
However, it has been difficult to determine why the IRS has not changed its policies.
The IRS emphasized that the website was created for free in collaboration with Intuit
, the private tax service company behind TurboTax, and that the IRS has an agreement with private tax filing companies not to create its own free tax-filing tool.
Intuit told Stardia in June that the website was built in accordance with IRS guidelines.
Wyden, who was “disappointed” with the accessibility issues, asked for a firm answer: “Did the IRS use contractual requirements to mandate the development of mobile friendly websites with translations into languages other than English? If not, why not? Was an explicit decision made either by the IRS or the private-sector partners to not create an accessible website?”
The IRS is in charge of distributing hundreds of billions of dollars in direct cash benefits to the American people
through three rounds of Economic Impact Payments and now the child tax credit.
Democrats, including Wyden, have acknowledged that getting the child tax credit advance payments out as early as July 15 was a monumental feat.
Direct-cash payments helped alleviate financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic
and kept millions of Americans out of poverty, according to Columbia University
researchers, who discovered the program could cut child poverty
in half, a statistic Democrats have emphasized in recent months as they toured the country selling their expanded tax credit.
However, as many economists have predicted, Wyden is now admitting that unless the government makes it easier for the poorest Americans to receive the benefit, the program will fall short of its full potential.
“Reaching these communities is critical to achieving our goal of halving child poverty through the expanded CTC,” he wrote to Rettig.