Coronavirus

Virus Checks Could Take Months Because of Budget Cuts

SK Ashby
Written by SK Ashby

Congress is about to send a $2 trillion spending package to the White House that includes cash money for most but not all American households, but it may take significantly longer for those checks to arrive in your mailbox than officials like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have predicted.

Mnuchin has said the checks would go out in a matter of weeks, but it could actually take months for all of them to be delivered because the agency responsible for issuing them, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), was significantly reduced in capacity before a pandemic was dumped on their doorstep.

As you probably know, congressional Republicans repeatedly cut the IRS budget while they were in power between 2011 and 2018 and now the agency is being asked to do even more with less. Experts who spoke to Reuters say it will likely take longer to mail checks today than it did during the last recession.

Aside from the direct payments, the IRS will also have to oversee a new range of tax breaks for businesses and individuals included in the bill. The agency also must implement a different set of business tax credits that President Donald Trump signed into law last week to provide paid sick-leave benefits to workers. [...]

In 2001, the IRS needed more than six weeks to issue the first rebates authorized by President George W. Bush’s tax cut. In 2008, the IRS issued its first payments to fight the Great Recession nearly three months after Bush signed off on them.

Since then, the agency has suffered a decade of austerity. Its budget is now 20% smaller when adjusted for inflation than it was in the 2010 fiscal year, according to the advocate’s office. Staffing has also fallen 20%, to 73,550 employees.

A check for $1,200 or $2,000 depending on the size of your family is probably not going to make ends meet for most people, but it's not nothing. It will certainly help a lot of people.

But will it help them too late?

If it takes months for this to happen, many people who eventually receive a check may have already missed critical bill payments and could already be evicted from their homes. Some areas of the country have suspended evictions, but that's very, very far from universal.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't send checks to people, but this is yet another way the Republican party's decades-long campaign to hollow out government has diminished our ability to respond to disasters.