Lester Testifies About IRS Reform at House Ways and Means Subcommittee Meeting
Tameka Lester, associate director of the College of Law’s Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and assistant clinical professor, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight on Dec. 13 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was on Internal Revenue Service reform.
“It was such an honor to be asked to testify as Rep. John Lewis’ expert witness,” Lester said. “Ensuring that the voice of low income taxpayers is considered in IRS reform is essential. The system of tax administration works best when individuals have access to representation, and access to representation should not be predicated solely on one’s ability to pay an attorney or accountant.”
At the hearing, Lester discussed the experience of Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) clients, particularly the issues encountered by taxpayers when engaging with the IRS. She also proposed recommendations for reform.
LITC clients come from all walks of life, Lester said. The common thread is time and money are finite and limited resources. Many low-income taxpayers do not have the luxury of smart phones, Internet service or the flexibility to leave work and wait on hold for hours to speak with a representative of the IRS, Lester said.
Therefore, it is essential for the IRS to continue providing avenues for taxpayers to engage with the IRS online, over the phone, in person, and through the use of qualified representatives, Lester said.
Funding should be increased to hire more representatives to staff existing Taxpayers Assistance Centers, and new centers need to be established, especially in underserved areas, Lester said. Further, those centers should begin accepting walk-in taxpayers, she said.
“Taxpayers who do not have phones or who have an immediate need should not be turned away from these centers simply because they don’t have an appointment,” Lester said.
Improving online technology, including allowing more documents and correspondence to be transmitted electronically would be beneficial, Lester said.
“Our clients are often the subject of audits and collection activity,” Lester said. “Both processes involve taxpayers sending in documentation such as copies of their children’s birth certificates, social security cards, school records, and their personal financial information. Taxpayers primarily provide documentation to the IRS via mail or fax, which presents several security and financial issues. They should have the ability to send information to the IRS electronically through a secured portal or account.”
LITCs could also help more taxpayers navigate the tax administration system if the statutory cap for funding is increased, Lester said.
“Many organizations, such as Georgia State University, have the capacity and interest in serving more taxpayers,” Lester said.
Additional funding would allow organizations to set up LITCs in underserved areas as well as serve more clients in existing areas.
“No one wants to have an issue with the IRS, and in my experience our clients have a desire to resolve their issues properly. However, they need our help in order to do that,” Lester said.