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Jones partners with GOP senator to stop tax refund theft

Chip Brownlee

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Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. (via Jones' Office and Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Tax filing season has officially begun, and that means tax returns and tax refunds — not all of which are real.

Tax filing season creates an opportunity for con artists to file fraudulent tax returns in an effort to steal real refunds that are owed to other taxpayers.

Theft of tax refunds cost victims a total of $1.7 billion in 2016 alone. The Internal Revenue Service has tried to combat the issue, but it remains a big challenge.

Identity theft refund fraud happens when scammers file false tax returns using stolen social security numbers and other personal information. They can then receive a tax refund from the IRS.

Two senators are trying to stop identity theft tax fraud and save Americans from losing their tax refunds.

Sens. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have introduced the Taxpayer Identity Protection Act.

The bill, if passed, would require the IRS to expand its Identity Protection PIN pilot program nationwide over the next five years.

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“The IP PIN pilot program has shown it can effectively defend taxpayers from the growing risk of identity theft, and it is critical that we take this next step to expand the program,” Jones said. “As these threats grow, it’s important that the federal government make every effort to help protect taxpayers’ identities.”

Jones said the program could help save billions of dollars.

“Having an IP PIN has proven to protect against identity theft,” Collins said. “This is a concrete action that we can take to help protect taxpayers from being ripped off by criminals and ensure that they receive the refunds to which they are entitled.”

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The bipartisan bill and the program it requires has received support from within the tax agency itself.

“The IRS supports the expansion of this vital program over the next five years,” Collins said. “I encourage my colleagues to vote for the adoption of our bipartisan bill.”

An IP PIN, a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers, allows tax returns and refunds to be processed without delay and helps prevent the misuse of personal information on tax returns.

If an incorrect IP PIN is used or missing, the IRS system automatically rejects the return until the identity of the filer is confirmed.

The IRS has said the IP PIN program rejected approximately 7,376 fraudulent e-filed tax returns in just one month last year.

Jones and Collins’ legislation would not require taxpayers to use the IP PIN system, but it would allow them to opt-in to the program if they want the extra layer of protection.

The IRS has only offered the program, in place since 2013, to victims of identity theft as well as all residents of Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, which have the highest per-capita percentage of identity theft refund fraud in the country.

The IRS issued nearly 3.5 million IP PINs to taxpayers last year. That was up from 770,000 in 2013.

The legislation calls for a five-year incremental expansion of the program.

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 82,000 complaints related to tax-refund fraud.

Like many con artists, tax refund fraudsters often target older Americans.

An estimated 76,000 seniors were victims of identity theft refund fraud in 2010.

Those who have been defrauded often wait months, and sometimes years, to receive their rightful refunds.

 

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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National

Commissioner praises prison employees for putting lives on the line during pandemic

Brandon Moseley

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ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Thursday praised the department’s employees for “literally putting their lives on the line” coming into work during the COVID-19 crisis. Dunn was speaking to the Alabama State Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, which is holding budget hearings in Montgomery.

“I cannot praise them enough,” Dunn said. “They are going into the facility knowing that it (the coronavirus) is there. Not just our corrections officers but also our healthcare workers.”

“Many of our workers are single moms,” Dunn said. “We have several families where both the husband and wife work for the department and they have children and they are coming to work each day.”

“188 of our staff have self-reported” being coronavirus positive, Dunn said. “109 of them have already been able to return to work. That is a tribute to the dedication of our staff. Unfortunately, we have had two employee deaths.”

“We are working on an expanded testing protocol, so we can eventually test the entire inmate population and can offer testing to our staff,” Dunn said. Employees also have the option of going to their doctor for testing.

“To this point we have tested 523 inmates, 2 percent of our population, and that number will continue to expand,” Dunn assured legislators.

Dunn said COVID-19 has negatively impacted ADOC’s efforts to hire more corrections officers. They have had to cancel job fairs and some new officer trainings due to the coronavirus shutdown. Dunn assured the senators that there has been progress in addressing the staffing issues that have been cited in a lawsuit in federal court.

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Dunn said that to this point in 2020, ADOC has had a net increase of 150 corrections officers. The Department has made 455 new hires, but has lost 305 due to attrition for a net gain of 150.

Dunn showed a graph to the state Senators showing that the number of corrections officers working at ADOC peaked at around 2,000 in 2011. Since then the number of officers has declined precipitously dropping to as low as 1100, before beginning to rise in the last year.

“Our hiring efforts have been slowed down by COVID-19,” Dunn explained

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Dunn said that they are talking with many candidates who are interested once their unemployment runs out. “We have a whole pool of folks who are waiting and seeing.”

“We always understood that this was going to be a process,” Dunn told Senators.

“Our personnel budget next year is $300 million,” Dunn said. “We have reduced our overtime over $300,000 this year. We have a much tighter management control over that. Part of that reduction is due to the increase in staffing.

Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, told Dunn, “The over is a very sensitive matter.”

Dunn said that any savings from reducing overtime is being used to pay for the new hires.

Dunn said that the prisons are currently operating at 155 percent capacity. Dunn predicted that once the state builds the three new mega-prisons currently in the bid process that ADOC will be operating at 120 to 125 percent capacity. Dunn said that the state has determined from the California case that 137 percent capacity is right at about the line where the federal courts would intervene. ADOC has set the capacity goal at 120 to 125 percent to have a buffer percentage.

ADOC is funded in the State General Fund (SGF) budget. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of state funds are earmarked and there are two separate budgets: the SGF and the state education trust fund budget (ETF). Alabama historically has underfunded its prisons and has long neglected its aging prison infrastructure.

COVID-19 remains a very serious problem in Alabama. 2,064 Alabamians were reported positive on Thursday and another ten died, taking Alabama’s death toll to 1,042.

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Rogers leads Homeland Security Committee Republicans

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Mike Rogers.

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, on Thursday delivered an opening statement highly critical of the Chinese government at a Homeland Security Committee hearing in Washington entitled “Examining the National Response to the Worsening Coronavirus Pandemic.”

“I appreciate you granting my request to allow Members to use the hearing room today,” Rogers said. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”

“As you know, I strongly disagree with the Speaker’s unilateral decision to shut down the House of Representatives,” Rogers explained. “We should be conducting our important oversight and legislative business here in Washington. We are much more productive when Members are here, in person, doing our work together. We’ve already proven we can do it safely. I hope we will return to regular order as soon as possible.”

“As I said before, our hearts go out to those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and those who are currently undergoing treatment,” Rogers continued. “COVID-19 is an unprecedented global pandemic that requires an unprecedented response.”

Rogers was highly critical of the Chinese government and their role in the global pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we lost precious time early in the response when China hid the disease from the world,” Rogers said. “For weeks the Chinese Communist Party refused entry to outside medical experts. The Chinese suppressed journalists from reporting. Worst of all, China deliberately withheld evidence of the virus’ structure and deadly spread. During this, the Chinese hoarded life-saving medical supplies and encouraged foreign travel, seeding the virus across the globe. I want to commend Ranking Member McCaul’s work on the Foreign Affairs Committee to extensively document this deadly cover-up in a recent report.”

“It’s clear that China has pulled out all the stops to manipulate everyone from media outlets to the World Health Organization,” Rogers continued. “The WHO maintained for months that China had promptly self-reported COVID-19. They did not. And after months of lying the WHO has come clean. The WHO now says it found out about COVID from media reports and whistleblowers from China. The Chinese Communist Party once again has been caught with blood on its hands.”

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“Facing an extraordinary public health crisis and China’s deadly coverup, the Trump Administration has responded with a whole of government response,” Rogers stated. ”To date, the Administration has – Prohibited the entry of travelers from global hot spots; Invoked the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of critically needed medical equipment, such as ventilators; Coordinated the delivery of over 167 million respirators, 682 million surgical masks, and 17 billion gloves; Sent over $125 billion to the states to support the medical response to COVID-19; Distributed over $500 billion in PPP loans to small business; and Helped facilitate the testing of over 36 million tests. In fact, we are now capable of conducting over 700,000 tests per day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the number of positive tests are rising in many areas. That’s why it’s so important for all Americans to continue to heed the advice of our federal, state, and local public health officials.”

“I am pleased to see a couple of public health and emergency response officials on the panel today,” Rogers said. “Colonel Hastings currently serves as the Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency. He had a very distinguished 30 year career in the Air Force. For the last 3 years, he has done a tremendous job leading EMA’s response to several natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Colonel, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate all the witnesses for appearing. I look forward to hearing how you all are using the emergency funding and resources provided by Congress and the Administration to respond to this crisis.”

“I am also interested in knowing what more Congress can do to help you effectively respond,” Rogers said. “Our country has faced outbreaks of serious disease in the past. In each case, we’ve marshalled our collective resources and ingenuity to overcome the crisis. I’m confident that will be the case with COVID-19.

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Rogers is the ranking member of the House Homeland Committee.

More than three million Americans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including more than 48,000 Alabamians. The novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shows no sign of slowing anytime soon as 61,864 Americans were diagnosed just on Wednesday. The virus was first identified late in 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China late in 2019. The first positive test for the virus in Alabama was in mid-March.

Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

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Congress

Perry Hooper endorses Tuberville

Brandon Moseley

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Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., Trump National Victory committee member, formally endorsed former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate on Thursday.

“I have known Coach Tommy Tuberville since he first arrived at Auburn in 1999,” Hooper said. “Since day one when I went to watch my sons practice football, he was always talking to me about Republican Party Politics. I knew it was in his blood. Little did I know at the time, I would be joining the President in supporting him for the United States Senate.”

“Coaching football is more about leadership than X’s and O’s,” Hooper continued. “Tommy’s leadership abilities were the first thing that impressed me when we first met. He has been places recruiting that few people running for office have. He has been in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, convincing Mommas how he was going to help mold their 17 years old sons into men. He really cares about everyday people and what is best for our neighborhoods and schools. He has been a great teacher of life lessons as well as an outstanding football coach. He brought in former Auburn Linebacker Chette Williams to serve as the Auburn football team chaplain. He is a dedicated Christian and dedicated to his family which includes his former players. This is what this country needs now – leaders not career politicians.”

“Tommy Tuberville is a principled, free market conservative who has the support of President Trump and has put together a great campaign to defeat Doug Jones,” said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth PAC “President Trump’s endorsement is by far the most important endorsement a candidate can earn for a Republican Primary, and we are glad to join President Trump in supporting Tommy Tuberville.”

Club for Growth PAC has been strongly supporting Tommy Tuberville for Senate and Barry Moore and Bill Hightower in the Second and First Congressional Districts.

During these turbulent times, the President needs Tommy Tuberville on his team.,” Hooper said. “As the President stated in his endorsement “Tommy Tuberville loves his country and will never let it down”. He is 100 % behind the President and the Trump Agenda. He could easily have retired after his long successful football career, but there is one more chapter in his life – serving in the US Senate. He has been a winner on and off the football field; as Senator he will be a big win for America and Alabama.”

Hooper is a member of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee and a strong supporter of Auburn University athletics.

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Tuberville faces former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, July 14, in the Republican primary runoff. The winner of the Republican nomination will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election.

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Congress

Sewell announces $4 Million federal grant for the Dannon Project

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell

Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, announced Wednesday a $4 million federal grant to be awarded to the Dannon Project through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Pathway Home grant program. The Pathway Home program focuses on assisting justice involved individuals with community re-entry and employment.

“As we continue to reexamine systems of racial inequity and oppression, I am grateful for organizations like the Dannon Project who work to fill in the gaps left by our deeply flawed criminal justice system,” said Sewell. “In a state with one of the most underfunded and violent prison systems, with one of the highest rates of overall incarceration in the country, and where Black Americans are jailed at 3.3 times the rate of white Americans, we can clearly see the need for the work of the Dannon Project. Of course, this funding is just a drop in the bucket of what is needed for true reform, but it is a step in the right direction.”

The Dannon Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in Birmingham, Alabama. The Dannon Project helps non-violent offenders who have been involved in the criminal justice system with re-entry by providing valuable resources such as short-term training, certifications, job placement and case management, beginning six months prior to release.

Kerri Pruitt is the executive director of the Dannon Project.

“The Dannon Project is thankful to receive this award and for the opportunity to make an impact in communities we serve,” said Pruitt. “Under the Pathway Home program, enrolled participants will have the option to follow one or more of three job training tracks: Industry-Recognized Credentials; Pre-Apprenticeship; or Career Pathways. The first two opportunities focus on training and job placement in employment sectors predicted to have the greatest job growth and/or high demand for skilled workers within the major industries of Birmingham’s regional economy. The third option, Career Pathways, will focus on facilitating participants’ enrollment at post-secondary institutions to attain educational credentials for their desired areas of employment.”

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said that 82 percent of prison releases who get employment never re-offend.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said that 95 percent of the inmates in the Alabama prison system will at some point re-enter society.

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Sewell is in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

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