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Wyden dings IRS for access issues in tax credit tool

Shutterstock photo ID: photo ID: 245503636 By Mark Van Scyoc Sign outside the Internal Revenue Service building in downtown Washington, DC on December 26, 2014. 

Millions of America's most vulnerable families may face hurdles signing up for the advanced Child Tax Credit payments the IRS began sending out this month due to an inadequate sign-up portal for non-filer applicants, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, warned in a letter sent to the agency.

The IRS Non-Filer Sign Up Tool, an online portal the agency rolled out in partnership with Intuit and the Free File Foundation, was intended to help families who earned too little to file tax returns in 2019 or 2020 sign up for the advance monthly payments.

Wyden said the portal had not been translated into any other language besides English, and was not accessible on mobile devices, writing in a letter to Commissioner Charles Rettig on Thursday that "millions of American families could be denied the opportunity to provide a more secure future for their children and break the cycle of poverty for so many" if the portal remained inaccessible for those applicants.

"I am concerned that technological and design constraints on the portal will prevent America's most vulnerable communities - those who make so little income they previously did not file - from even applying for this important funding," Wyden wrote The letter was first reported by Huffington Post.

Wyden wants Rettig to answer whether the IRS included mobile-friendly versions of the website, as well as language translations, in its contractual requirements as mandated by federal law. The Connected Government Act requires all new and updated agency websites to be mobile friendly as of 2018, Wyden noted, adding: "While I know the IRS worked with private-sector partners Intuit and the Free File Foundation to build the non-filer portal, which is not hosted on a government domain, the intent of this is clear."

Wyden also asked if the IRS had made use of federal funding through the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) or the General Service Administration's Technology Transformation Service, as well as services offered through the U.S. Digital Service, when developing the non-filer sign-up tool. The IRS has never applied for funding through TMF, according to a response to a Freedom of Information Act request received by FCW in October last year.

The letter went on to urge the IRS to direct Intuit and the Free File Alliance to develop language translations and mobile-friendly versions for the portal so the "most vulnerable working families, including those who do not speak English or only have a mobile device, have access to the Child Tax Credit."

The TMF has funded projects seeking to improve government portals like the non-filer sign-up tool in recent years, including a Department of Agriculture website for farmers and ranchers, which helped provide pandemic-related financial assistance throughout the COVID-19 crisis. With a $1 billion plus-up for the fund included in the American Rescue Plan, lawmakers have increasingly called on agencies to use those dollars on technology modernization projects which improve cyber posture and help provide more efficient government services.

Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat said at an recent industry event that the TMF Board was impressed with the number of proposals received after relaxing repayments requirements earlier this year due to the injection in funds, and was continuing to meet in an increased capacity to manage the surge of applications.

Wyden acknowledged in his letter "that technological capacity is not the core competency for many federal agencies" and noted how TMF has "newly updated and much more flexible repayment rules for agencies," while asking the IRS to provide a reasonable time frame to resolve the sign-up tool issues.

About the Author

Chris Riotta is a staff writer at FCW covering government procurement and technology policy. Chris joined FCW after covering U.S. politics for three years at The Independent. He earned his master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he served as 2021 class president.

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