IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has confirmed to Congress that illegal immigrants granted amnesty under President Obama’s new programs could claim back refunds even when they never filed returns to pay their taxes in the first place.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who had pressed Mr. Koskinen over the issue, released written responses Wednesday in which the commissioner admitted he’d botched the question earlier and, in fact, illegal immigrants granted the amnesty will now be able to claim refunds on tax returns they never even filed, thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“To clarify my earlier comments on EITC, not only can an individual amend a prior year return to claim EITC, but an individual who did not file a prior year return may file a return and claim EITC (subject to refund limitations under section 6511 of the Internal Revenue Code),” Mr. Koskinen said.
He insisted, however, that he doubts many illegal immigrants will take advantage of the loophole because they would have to be able to prove their earnings for those years they never filed returns.
“Filers would have to reconstruct earnings and other records for years when they were not able to work on the books,” he said.
Taxpayers must have Social Security numbers in order to claim the EITC, and illegal immigrants aren’t supposed to have numbers. But Mr. Obama’s new deportation amnesty grants illegal immigrants work permits, which are then used to obtain Social Security numbers.
IRS lawyers have ruled that once illegal immigrants get numbers, they can go back and refile for up to three previous years’ taxes and claim refunds even for time they were working illegally.
The lawyers said since the EITC is a refundable credit, that’s allowed even when the illegal immigrants worked off the books and never paid taxes in the first place.
“Section 32 of the Internal Revenue Code requires an SSN on the return, but a taxpayer claiming the EITC is not required to have an SSN before the close of the year for which the EITC is claimed,” Mr. Koskinen said. “At your request, the IRS has reviewed the relevant statutes and legislative history, and we believe that the 2000 Chief Counsel Advice (CCA) on this issue is correct.”
Mr. Koskinen had initially said illegal immigrants could claim refunds, but only for years they’d filed returns and presumably had paid some taxes.
Most of Mr. Obama’s amnesty is on hold after federal courts ruled he likely broke the law by acting on his own without Congress‘ approval and without putting his policy out for public review and comment.
But a 2012 policy that applies to so-called Dreamers, or young adult illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, is in effect.
Homeland Security has approved 664,607 initial applications for Dreamers, and approved another 243,872 renewals over the last year, extending the initial two-year amnesty for another two years.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has created more dependency on government and perverted the capitalist foundations of America, according to a top surgeon.
“You just can’t keep giving everything away to people without them working for it,” said Dr. Lee Hieb, former president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. “It’s not capitalism when you let people who are able-bodied not contribute to society but take the spoils. I mean, that’s just not capitalism. We have too many people that don’t work to eat.”
Obamacare appears to be worsening America’s dependency issue. The Associated Press reported food-stamp enrollment increased in 11 states between January 2013 and the end of 2014, the period during which Obamacare went into effect.
Ten of those 11 states expanded Medicaid under the ACA, and six of them used new online enrollment systems that made it easy for customers to sign up for both Medicaid and food stamps at the same time. Such streamlined application systems were built specifically for the health-care overhaul.
In total, nearly 632,000 people were added to the food-stamp rolls in those 11 states during that period, at an estimated cost of almost $79 million a month to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food-stamp program also known as SNAP. This came at a time when the national economy was improving and food-stamp enrollment declined nationwide.
Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, sees the phenomenon as part of a government attempt to place more Americans under its thumb.
“Self-reliant Americans are being crushed by taxation and regulation, directly and indirectly, and turned into government dependents,” Orient said. “How can you resist if government can cut off your food and medicine?”
In almost all of the 16 states that didn’t expand Medicaid, food-stamp rolls have been decreasing as the economy improves.
Hieb, author of “Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare,” said Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion damaged the American medical system by dropping people from their private insurance and putting them on Medicaid.
“People think that all these people getting on Medicaid through Obamacare were uninsured,” Hieb said. “That’s not true. A number of those people had private insurance, but now, because they qualify under these new guidelines, why not have somebody else pay for your health insurance? So instead of paying for health insurance, they’re taking Medicaid.”
She continued, “So you’ve turned paying patients into nonpaying patients. It’s absolutely, clearly a failing economic model, and I don’t understand how smart people believe it. I just don’t understand how they do not see that point.”
Hieb, an orthopedic surgeon, has observed firsthand the damage Medicaid expansion has done to hospitals. She recently reached the end of a contract to perform surgery two-and-a-half days a week at a small hospital, and she is now looking for a similar arrangement. However, she says she’s found hospitals are running scared from orthopedic surgeons like her because they fear they won’t make enough money to pay the surgeons’ salaries.
According to Hieb, the hospitals are struggling to bring in money because of the increase in Medicaid patients and corresponding decrease in private-pay patients. Medicaid does not reimburse hospitals as much as private insurance does. Hospitals have also struggled to cope with Medicare provider payment cuts and increased administrative paperwork.
But while Medicaid expansion has hurt hospitals, it has been a boon to health-care consumers. In states that expand Medicaid, adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level must qualify, and states are allowed to set even higher thresholds. Before the ACA took effect, the median Medicaid eligibility limit for parents was 106 percent of the federal poverty level. Medicaid expansion also made adults without dependent children eligible for the first time.
Hieb said she believes Americans are smart enough to act in their own financial self-interest, and, for many who hover just above the poverty level, that involves taking advantage of the welfare system. Hieb lives among the patients she serves in rural Iowa, and she says they know how to look out for themselves.
“It’s a mistake to think that all these poor people are children who cannot navigate this very complex medical system,” Hieb asserted. “These are the people who have figured out if you don’t make $35,000 a year working, it’s not worth working because you can do that well if you know how to work the system of welfare.”
If people can cobble together enough disability payments, unemployment payments and food stamps to earn a halfway decent living, Hieb argued, they are smart enough to hitch themselves to Medicaid, even if they might be able to afford health insurance on their own.
“People act in their own economic self-interest,” Hieb said. “If you can get things for free, why pay for them?”
She answered her own question: “One, because that’s ethical, and two, medical providers cannot be in business unless somebody actually pays the bill.”
The IRS doled out more than $5 billion in potentially bogus college aid payments under an Obama stimulus tax credit in 2012, according to a new report Tuesday from the agency’s inspector general that said the administration still doesn’t have a good handle on how to root out erroneous claims.
More than 3.8 million students received more than $5.6 billion in questionable tax credits, the audit found – more than half of those never filed their tuition statement, while others were paid tax credits even though the schools they attended weren’t acceptable institutions.
Still other students claimed the credit for more than four years.
“The IRS still does not have effective processes to identify erroneous claims for education credits,” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, who said he’s repeatedly warned the IRS about the problem but “many of the deficiencies TIGTA previously identified still exist.”
Many of the problems, however, lie with Congress, which needs to grant the IRS new powers to check students’ claims against other government databases, Mr. George said.
The tax break at issue is known as the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which was a creation of President Obama’s 2009 stimulus. It was slated to expire in 2010, but Mr. Obama and Congress have extended it through 2017.
The credits are designed to offset the costs of college.
IRS officials said part of the blame for the potential fraud lies with schools and the school year itself, saying that information on students’ attendance comes too late for the agency to be able to check it against returns.
But Debra Holland, IRS’s wage and investment division commissioner, insisted her agency does have “effective processes to identify erroneous claims,” saying they did catch 1.8 million questionable returns and put nearly 9,600 of those cases through a tax exam.
Ms. Holland blamed a lack of money for her agency’s inability to do more, and said they needed to limit their efforts to tax returns that had the highest risk of errors and the best chance of reclaiming money.
The IRS has already moved to add more checks to its system by looking to see who’s claimed the tax credit for more than four nonconsecutive years.
In a statement Tuesday, the IRS said Congress could help the agency out by granting it the power to automatically reject payments to students who claim more than four years of the tax credit. The agency also said Congress could approve new tools to access other government databases to check students’ eligibility for the tax credits, and could speed up the timeframe for filing the tuition forms that the inspector general said were missing in most of the cases it identified.
“Funding limitations have severely hampered our efforts in this and other compliance areas. Since 2010, the IRS budget has been reduced by nearly $1.2 billion and we expect to have 16,000 fewer employees by the end of this fiscal year. We simply do not have enough resources to audit every questionable credit,” the agency said.
The agency also said it believed the estimate of $5.6 billion was “overstated,” though the IRS acknowledged that it should try to do more to cut down on bad payments.
The U.S. economy slowed to a crawl at the start of the year as businesses slashed investment, exports tumbled and consumers showed signs of caution, marking a return to the uneven growth that has been a hallmark of the nearly six-year economic expansion.
Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, expanded at a 0.2% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. The economy advanced at a 2.2% pace in the fourth quarter and 5% in the third.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected growth of 1% in the first three months of this year, though many were braced for a surprise to the downside.
The latest reading on the economy came hours before Federal Reserve officials released their policy statement, in which they said slower growth reflected, in part, “transitory factors.” The Fed gave no new explicit clues on the timing of interest-rate increases, but the slower growth made the timing a bit more uncertain.
The first-quarter figures repeat a common pattern in recent years: one or two strong readings followed by a sharp slowdown. First-quarter GDP growth had averaged 0.6% since 2010 and 2.9% for all other quarters. That has worked out to moderate overall expansion but no growth breakout.
“This is another quarterly number which confirms the long-term slow-growth thesis, but there are good odds we get a bit of a bounce later in the year from stabilized business spending and the housing markets, which are setting up quite promising,” Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott, said in a note to clients.
Last year, economists pinned much of the blame for a bad first quarter – GDP shrank 2.1% – on unusually harsh weather. This year, multiple factors appear to be at work, including another bout of blizzards, disruptions at West Coast ports, the stronger dollar’s effect on exports and the impact of cheaper oil.
Better weather, a return to normal at port terminals and steadying investment could boost growth later this year.
“We expect the economy will rebound in [the second quarter] and beyond, similar to last year,” said Michelle Girard, economist at RBS Securities.
But not all the factors behind the slowdown appear temporary. A stronger dollar and cheaper oil could persist, keeping exports and energy-sector investment at bay.
As well, rising inventories kept the U.S. economy out of recession, contributing 0.74 percentage point to GDP in the first quarter. A second-quarter repeat is unlikely.
Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, said producers probably will allow inventory positions to run off rather than building them up even more. “This tells us that current-quarter growth is likely to run around 2.5%, not the 4% snapback we had previously been anticipating,” he said.
U.S. households will have to pick up spending to help the economy grow. Wednesday’s report showed consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic output, decelerated to a 1.9% pace in the first quarter, down from 4.4% growth in the fourth quarter.
Rather than using savings from cheaper gasoline to buy more goods and services, Americans have been setting money aside for a rainy day. The personal saving rate at 5.5% in the first quarter was the highest since 2012. The figure was 4.6% in the fourth quarter.
Another key driver of the economy, business spending, also has faltered of late. Nonresidential fixed investment – which reflects spending on software, research and development, equipment and structures – retreated at a 3.4% rate, compared with a 4.7% rise in the fourth quarter.
Energy companies in particular are feeling the effects of cheaper oil. Business investment in structures fell 23.1%, led by a 48.7% contraction for mining sector spending on shafts and wells, Commerce said.
A stronger dollar, meanwhile, has made domestically produced goods more expensive overseas and foreign products cheaper inside the U.S. Combined with disruptions at West Coast ports, trade was constrained. In the first quarter, exports fell at a 7.2% rate, compared with 4.5% growth in the fourth quarter. Imports rose 1.8%, compared with 10.4% in the fourth quarter.
Federal government spending added little to the economy in the first quarter, expanding 0.3%, compared with a 7.3% fall in the fourth quarter.
Real final sales of domestic product, a measure that excludes changes to inventories, shrank at a 0.5% pace, compared with a 2.3% rise in the fourth quarter.
Alongside weak growth in the quarter, prices fell.
The price index for personal consumption expenditures – the Fed’s preferred measure for inflation – declined at a 2% annual rate, well below the central bank’s 2% inflation growth target. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy components, were up 0.9%, the lowest level since 2010.