When Natassia Smick, 28, filed her familys taxes in January, she
already had plans for the refund she and her husband expected to
receive. Mainly, she wanted to catch up on her credit card debt.
And she was pregnant with their second child, so there were plenty
of extra expenses ahead.
Since Smick, who is taking classes toward a bachelors degree,
and her husband, a chef, together earned around $33,000 in 2017,
about $2,000 of that refund would come from the earned income tax
credit. Its among the governments largest anti-poverty programs,
sending more than $60 billion every year to families like Smicks:
people who have jobs but are struggling to get by. Last year, 28
million households claimed the EITC.
Smick, who lives outside Los Angeles, thought shed get her
refund in a month or so, as she had the year before. But no refund
came. Instead, she got a letter from the IRS saying it was
conducting a thorough review of her return. She didnt need to do
anything, it said. Smick waited as patiently as she could. She
called the IRS and was told to wait some more.
It wasnt until four months later, in July, that she got her next
letter. The IRS informed her that she was being audited. She had 30
days to provide supporting documentation for basically everything.
As she understood it, she needed to prove that she and her husband
had earned what theyd earned and that her child was her child.
By this point, Smick was home with her baby. She set about
rounding up W-2s, paycheck stubs, bank statements and birth
certificates. Proving that her 4-year-old had lived at the familys
address for most of the year, as the EITC requires, was the hardest
thing, but she did her best with medical records, some papers from
his day care, and whatever else she could think of.
She sent it all off and hoped for a quick resolution,
next IRS letter quashed that hope. The IRS said it would review
her response by Feb. 16, 2019 six months away. Collectors were
calling about the credit card bills. She didnt know how shed make
it that long.
Smick couldnt understand why this was happening. All she had
done was answer the questions on TurboTax. Isnt it rich people who
get audited? We have nothing, she said, and its just frustrating
knowing that we have nothing.
It seemed there was nothing she could do. And when she called
the IRS to ask how it could possibly take so long to review her
documents, she remembers being told that there was
nothing they could do, either: The IRS was
extremely short staffed, the person said.
Budget cuts have crippled the IRS over the past eight years.
Enforcement staff has dropped by a third. But while the number of
audits has fallen across t...