Cantwell Questions IRS Commissioner on Plan to Streamline Communication & Raise Awareness for Unclaimed Refunds

Pandemic-era upheaval left more than $44 million in unclaimed 2019 refunds on the table for WA taxpayers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Finance, questioned Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Danny Werfel at a Finance Committee hearing about how the IRS plans to help taxpayers receive their unclaimed tax refunds and implement new technology to streamline communication with the agency.

"This time last week, the IRS announced that nearly 1.5 million Americans have unclaimed tax refunds from 2019. In Washington state, the pandemic and other disruptions prevented as many as 42,000 people from filing their 2019 tax return leaving a total of $44 million in unclaimed refunds,” Sen. Cantwell said, adding that those taxpayers have until July 17, 2023, to claim their 2019 refunds. “So what is the IRS doing to create greater public awareness for these unclaimed refunds? And do you have plans to reach out to individuals?”

Commissioner Werfel replied that the IRS communicated the deadline to media outlets, who passed the information to their viewers and readers.

“How do we continue to build on that outreach? There's got to be more than we can do than just issuing a press release. We can use social media, we can engage with intermediaries, and associations and groups. And this is part of the vision that we have for improved customer service,” Commissioner Werfel said. “We're here, we're going to answer your call. That's part of it -- and that's critical. But it's also outreach to meet taxpayers where they are … Whether it's in an assistance center, walk-in center or a call.”

Sen. Cantwell added: “When it comes to only owing money, the IRS has a lot of direct communication with people … I think the response from the IRS and direct communication with people on these issues would go a long way.”

Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act provided nearly $80 billion to improve IRS operations and help streamline the process for taxpayers filing returns. Thanks to this funding, the IRS was able to reduce its backlog from 4.7 million unprocessed individual returns at the beginning of 2022 down to 1 million unprocessed returns by mid-December 2022.

In a Strategic Operating Plan released by the IRS earlier this month, the agency indicated it plans to dedicate a portion of the additional funds to modernizing IRS services through technology upgrades. Those upgrades would allow taxpayers to choose to engage with the IRS entirely online, easing backlogs and enabling swifter communication between taxpayers and the agency.

Video footage of today’s hearing is available HERE; audio HERE; and a transcript HERE.