Updates on IRS Closure & the Use of IRS Employees as Pawns in a Political Battle
By Michelle D. Wynn
I wish that I had uplifting news for those people following the closure of the Internal Revenue Service… but I don’t.
The Secretary of the Treasury was supposed to release updated guidance and reexamine furlough procedures if the closure lasted more than 5 days. I have yet to see anything published that says that any of this happened. At this point, the IRS is basically still closed with no improvements to taxpayer service in sight and no additional employees being brought back to work.
Since I can’t report any updates on how the IRS will operate during this now prolonged closure, I did some digging on the new Treasury Web Page for furloughed workers. There are some good resources there that any furloughed IRS employees can use to understand how this closure will affect their pay, benefits, and possible resources available to those employees to help meet expenses while on furlough.
Here are some of the things that are understandable, but still bother me, about Treasury Employee benefits during this closure:
Employees that are currently disabled due to injury sustained under Worker’s Compensation-type events during the closure will be paid, unless the agency doesn’t have money to do so. Isn’t workers compensation a separately-funded insurance plan? That’s what private employers have to purchase. Wouldn’t the federal government be responsible for at least diverting some money into a separate fund for this purpose?
Health Benefits premiums will accumulate and be withheld from pay upon return to pay status. What if they don’t get full retroactive pay? Does that mean they have to go even longer without pay so that they can pay their health insurance premiums?
Federal Dental and Vision Benefits will be billed to the employees directly if the employee is not receiving pay for 2 consecutive pay periods.
Flexible Spending Accounts will not be reimbursing medical care claims made until after the employee returns to paid service and the withholding resumes. So those medical claims get to stay unreimbursed when you need the reimbursements the most.
Federal Long Term Care Insurance will bill employees directly if the employee is not receiving pay for 3 consecutive pay periods.
What I find totally disgusting is the President’s statement to his employees on the day that they were put on enforced unpaid leave ON HIS WATCH. During a time when he could have attempted bi-partisan talks but REFUSED. During a crisis situation where he knew the parties were worlds apart before this closure happened and didn’t use his position to get both sides to the table to make the tough calls and stay there until they worked out an agreement. He filled a room with gas fumes and let the little sparks that were flying cause a massive explosion.
He issued a statement that, quite properly, thanks the Federal Employees for all that they do and commends the work that they do every day. He then goes into a tangent about how he will do everything in his power to reopen the Government – just so long as it happens without “attach[ing] highly controversial and partisan measures”. Basically, I will work very hard to get you back to work, so long as the other side caves in on everything.
Umm… Mr. President, this is a budget negotiation. How do you have 2 groups with very different budgetary ideologies negotiate a budget WITHOUT requesting partisan measures? How do you have a budget NEGOTIATION without discussing difficult questions of how to keep your budget to something you can afford?
Additionally, this is not the right forum to be pointing the finger. A good leader would be letting his employees know how much he values them and trying somehow to lessen the sting of what is happening TO THEM. A good leader is not using a statement to his employees, who are now concerned about whether they can put dinner on the table in 2 weeks, to play the blame game.
Let’s put the focus of this conversation where it belongs: what will it take to get our government running again so that our government employees can get back to work and so that the American people are not suffering the shame of having a government that will close its doors whenever tough decisions have to be made.