The IRS says it will be ready in a little more than two months to start sending monthly payments to parents as part of the newly enhanced Child Tax Credit. The news came in a Senate Committee on Finance hearing Tuesday, in which IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said he expects the system to send out monthly payments to be ready by July 1.
Some 69 million households are set to benefit from the payments that some are calling "monthly stimulus checks" for parents of up to $300 per child. The payments are a provision in the American Rescue Plan that's supposed to temporarily expand eligibility for the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and pre-pay half of the tax benefit in a way that's similar to a monthly child allowance.
But concerns over the IRS's ability to roll out an unprecedented monthly payment program, particularly after pushing the tax filing deadline to May 15 and while busy sending out the third round of stimulus checks, have left a cloud of mystery surrounding the logistics of the 2021 changes to the Child Tax Credit.
According to Rettig, in order for the IRS to establish a system for sending out monthly benefits, the agency will need to hire at minimum 300 to 500 employees to deal with the increased volume of calls, oversee investigations of fraud and build out a web portal for the benefit by July 1. Under the financing guidelines outlined in the American Rescue Plan, Rettig says the estimated cost will be around $391 million.
"We have to create an entirely new structure for the Internal Revenue Service. We are not historically a benefits delivery federal agency," Rettig said on Tuesday. "It's a challenge to do it by July 1."
The substantial challenge that comes with preparing the IRS to dole out benefits is why some experts have suggested delegating benefit distribution to the Social Security Administration, which already has the infrastructure for sending out checks to millions of people each month.
Another challenge facing the IRS is ensuring families have an easy way to opt out if they would rather receive a lump sum payment as a tax refund rather than half of it as a monthly payment, particularly because many of those families may not have consistent internet access. Rettig addressed this concern during the hearing, saying "If people do not have broadband, they'll end up needing to deal with us through paper sources," either via the U.S. Postal Service or in-person at their nearest IRS agency.
For those with internet access who wish to opt out, Rettig said that the IRS will be setting up an online portal by July 1 similar to the page the agency set up for stimulus check distribution. Parents can also use the portal to identify any changed circumstances like a new child and the age of each eligible recipient. Children under the age of six are eligible for up to $3,600 while all other children can get up to $3,000 this year.
While Rettig affirmed the agency's commitment to meeting the July 1 deadline put forth by Congress, he did note that if all systems are not ready to go by then, they will need to push back the rollout date. Some questions still remain around logistics for parents that the IRS is not yet prepared to answer, including how they will deal with families who end up being over- or under-paid come tax season next year or what the deadline will be for parents to opt out of monthly payments.
On the congressional side, question marks also still remain regarding the future of the enhanced benefit. Although it was initially designed to be a temporary program as part of the coronavirus pandemic relief, many Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they would support making the Enhanced Child Tax Credit permanent. Others, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), have proposed upending the tax credit all together and rolling that money plus certain welfare programs into a monthly family benefits program.