3 Ways to Beat IRS Budget Cuts

Help for Federal Income Tax
3 ways to beat IRS Budget Cuts and make tax prep easier

3 Ways to Beat IRS Budget Cuts and Make Tax Prep Easier


The Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers that 2015 could be a tough year to get the tax help you need. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently pointed to budget cuts for the federal tax agency that could result in operational shutdowns and furloughs, poor telephone customer service, and delays in return processing and refund payments. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson characterized the cutbacks as telling “millions of taxpayers who seek help each year, in essence, ‘We’re sorry. You’re on your own.'”

Yet just because the IRS won’t necessarily be the perfect resource to get the tax help you need doesn’t mean that you have to go without assistance entirely. For many taxpayers, other sources of help in tax preparation can give you a much better experience.

Let’s take a look at three ways to bypass the IRS to get high-quality help.

1. Get Free Help from Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

T he Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers help in preparing and electronically filing tax returns. If you have a disability, are elderly, have limited understanding of the English language or make $53,000 or less in income, then you can typically qualify to participate in VITA. Volunteers are IRS-certified to be able to provide basic help and tax-return preparation, and at many locations, you can get help with more difficult issues. Find a local location via this IRS website:  http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ or by calling 800-906-9887.

To participate, bring photo ID along with your Social Security number, date of birth, copies of your previous year’s tax returns,and any W-2s showing your work income and 1099s or other forms showing interest and dividends or other types of income. To take advantage of direct deposit options, you’ll also want to have your bank account and routing numbers handy.

2. 60 or Older? Get Free Help Tailored to Your Needs

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program is designed to provide free tax help with an emphasis toward serving people who are 60 or older. TCE volunteers tend to be retired themselves and are IRS-certified to offer help on questions about pensions, retirement-account distributions and other retirement-related issues that those over 60 most commonly face.

The majority of TCE sites are administered by the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program, which has operated for more than 45 years and helped nearly 50 million taxpayers nationwide. To find an AARP-administered site, go to this AARP website: http://www.aarp.org/applications/VMISLocator/searchTaxAideLocations.action or call 888-227-7669. You can also use the same IRS links and phone number listed above for the VITA program to find a list of TCE sites as well.

3. Use IRS Free File

The Free File program is a partnership between the IRS and various private companies that make software for tax preparation. Free File offers two different services depending on your income. If you made $60,000 or less in adjusted gross income in 2014, then you qualify for complete tax-preparation services for free. With your choice of several preparation programs, you’ll get guidance throughout the preparation and filing process, with electronic filing at no extra charge. For those who make more than $60,000, tax preparation software isn’t free, but you can still use the program’s fillable forms, which will help you by automatically doing the math for the figures you enter.

The documents you’ll need for Free File are similar to those for VITA and TCE, but the benefit is that you can use your own computer without leaving your home. For more information, check out the IRS Free File website: http://freefile.irs.gov/

Nico LaHood starts a Child Abuse Division

District Attorney against Child Abuse
Nico LaHood, Bexar County DA


San Antonio, TX – It’s been a little more than three weeks since Nico LaHood took office as the Bexar County District Attorney and he said the atmosphere is already different.

“Three weeks in, people are encouraged. And if people are encouraged and hopeful then in my opinion, I’m going to get excellence out of them and I expect excellence out of the assistant district attorneys,” LaHood said.

LaHood said his biggest challenge so far has been dealing with the bureaucracy. The former criminal defense lawyer is now facing decisions from the opposite side of the court room.

“I think all those experiences in my life, being called every name in the book, even recently in the campaign and that’s fine, I’m comfortable in my skin to going through challenges and having to overcome challenges, physically, mentally, socially, has prepared me for this moment.”

Those challenges include his own time in the justice system and the murder of his brother. LaHood was present for the execution of his brother’s killer.

“What it’s taught me over the years is the ability and the authority to utilize the death penalty, which is appropriate in certain situations and I am a responsible supporter of the death penalty. Responsible,” he said

LaHood said he’s especially interested in cases involving children and started a child abuse division. He’s meeting with various judges and organizations to put together a child abuse summit.

“Once we analyze the problems, now what are the solutions. Let’s cut through all the bureaucracy BS and let’s bring some solutions,” he said.

He also has some very specific goals for his first year in office.
“That this guy wasn’t afraid to do what’s right, he didn’t play the BS political games. He wasn’t afraid to be himself, he wasn’t afraid to do what’s right. And he was consistent in office.”

Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced

States tainted reports
Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced, numbers are intentionally tainted

Report Finds that Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced


Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That’s according to a study by the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.

The numbers are grim.  Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. More than 1,500 of them died.

Federal officials say they’re encouraged that the numbers are lower than they were in 2012. But children’s advocates say abuse is so often not reported that it’s impossible to know if there’s really been a decline.

“This is just something that’s chronically underreported,” says Elisa Weichel, a staff attorney with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, which published the report Tuesday.

She says abuse and neglect cases — especially those resulting in death — are often not disclosed as required by law. That lack of information has led to other problems in the system.

“It all boils down to having the right amount of data about what’s working and what’s not,” Weichel says. “And when your data is flawed, every other part of your system is going to be flawed.”

Her group has found plenty of flaws. The institute conducted a three-year study and found that not one state has met all of the minimum child welfare standards set by the federal government. Those standards include such things as timely investigation of reports of child abuse. The institute blames Congress and the courts for failing to get involved.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which reviews state programs, declined to comment on the report.

But there’s broad agreement among those involved in child welfare that the system is in desperate need of repair, agencies are underfunded, and caseworkers are often overwhelmed.

“Whether or not individual states can meet a reporting standard to us is not where the emphasis ought to be,” says Ron Smith, director of legislative affairs for the American Public Human Services Association, which represents child welfare administrators.

“It needs to be on making sure that the kids who need assistance are getting assistance, and the families that need assistance are getting the assistance,” he says.

Smith says state and local officials complain that they spend too much time filling out federal forms and trying to meet requirements that aren’t necessarily best for kids.

Instead, he says, they want flexibility on how to spend federal funds so they can focus more on keeping families together, rather than on helping kids after they’ve been abused and removed from their homes.

Ron Zychowski of Eckerd, a nonprofit company that runs child welfare services in three of Florida’s largest counties, agrees that change is needed. Eckerd has developed a new system to identify which of the 5,000 children under its care are at the highest risk of serious injury or death, so they can fix problems quickly.

“And I’m very pleased to report that in two years we have not had a child death from abuse or neglect in any of our cases,” Zychowski says.

That program is getting lots of national attention, including from a new commission set up by Congress to help eliminate abuse and neglect deaths.

But Zychowski warns, in this field, there’s no silver bullet.
“Bad people will do bad things to children,” he says. “We’re not going to catch them all, and we’re not going to stop them all.”

There was a horrific reminder of that earlier this month. A Florida man was accused of killing his 5-year-old daughter by throwing her off a bridge. Zychowski says the family was not in the child welfare system.