Pearl River America is a big country not only in geography, but also in pure complexity. As our population creeps towards 350 million people, keeping up with government in Washington becomes more and more difficult. We know that there is division from reading the papers or the internet. We know that lobbyists and the rich have sway in terms of reform and policy. Sometimes we don’t understand the games Congress plays with public services and goods. Even if we don’t see into the cloakrooms in DC where budgets are crafted, decisions are made, and bouquets or brickbats find their way to favor or shun programs, there is almost a universal law that what goes around comes around. Two examples brought this home to me this week, and I’m betting many Americans are going to join me in finding a deeper understanding of the impact of Republican efforts to starve public goods and services. One involves the often-maligned Internal Revenue Service and the other the frequently taken for granted US Postal Service.
First, the poor post office which scores of Republicans, including the still hanging on Trumper, Postmaster General DeJoy, have tried to do their best to privatize, despite the fact that it is generally regarded as one of the best in the world. We all saw evidence of both the best and worst of their chicanery recently. On the good side they managed in the wake of the holiday mail blitz to get out 40 million test kits and masks to satisfy all the requests. On the bad side, they are so undermanned and mechanized, that our mailing of the final quarterly issue of Social Policy in our 51st year was dropped at the post office and accepted in bulk on January 14th in New Orleans at the main post office. A test copy came to my home maybe three miles from that location. The issue arrived, none the worse for wear, on March 4th. The journey took 49 days! We will be getting delivery questions from our international subscribers and many others even in the USA for many weeks to come!
Secondly, no one loves the IRS of course, but it is vital in funding our government to provide any of the services we might need or want, as many found out when it stepped into the breach to deliver supplemental payments during the pandemic. But, that’s at a cost as well. Some 20 million returns from last year are still backlogged. Reports indicate that additional clerks have come in at $15 per hour to try and help clear the mess, but there aren’t even enough staplers to do the job. My mother passed away on March 11th three yeas ago. I’ve been trying to settle her taxes for some years now. This week I got a letter from the IRS. It seems that a $4000-dollar odd payment I had made in 2019 for the 2017, when she hadn’t filed, had been double billed to me again in 2020, which, in my confusion, I also paid, hoping to finally be rid of this problem. They claimed to have issued a refund for the overpayment error in June of 2021, which the bank confirmed that I had never received or deposited. They were letting me know about this in March 2022, so that I could file for a new check for the never received check from 2021. This is sort of an IRS and USPS double bind. Maybe I’ll get that refund in 2023? Maybe not? Who knows when I’ll get the refund for my 2020 personal taxes either for that matter?
It’s hard to blame them or get too mad about this. The same Times’ report indicates that,
The [IRS] work force of about 75,000 is the same size as it was in 1970. Its enforcement staff has fallen by over 30 percent since 2010, and audits of millionaires have declined by more than 70 percent. And its budget has declined by nearly 20 percent, when accounting for inflation, during the last decade.
Whoever says that decisions in Washington and our critical polarization don’t have consequences at the local level where we live in work just doesn’t know what they’re talking about.