The Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation last week to thwart identity theft tax refund fraud and prevent American taxpayers and seniors from falling victim.
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number to file a tax return claiming a fraudulent refund.
The bill was authored by U.S. Sens. Doug Jones and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Their bill, which was included as a provision in the Taxpayer First Act, previously passed the House of Representatives and now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
The Taxpayer Identity Protection Act would require the IRS to expand its Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) pilot program nationwide over the next five years. An IP PIN is a six-digit number assigned to eligible taxpayers that allows their tax returns and refunds to be processed without delay and helps prevent the misuse of their SSNs on fraudulent income tax returns. This legislation would allow taxpayers to opt-in to the IP PIN pilot program if they desire an extra layer of identity protection.
“The fact that this bill passed Congress with bipartisan support is great news for all taxpayers, especially the seniors who are more likely to be targets of tax return fraud and scams,” Jones said. “This is a concrete step that will help protect American taxpayers by reducing identity theft and saving over a billion dollars in taxpayer money each year.”
The IRS has made progress in decreasing the number of identity theft refund frauds in recent years. According to a 2018 report from USA Today, the number of reported tax identity-theft victims in 2018 was down 19 percent from 2017 and 72 percent lower than in 2015, thanks to a data-sharing agreement among the IRS, national tax professional groups, state revenue departments and software preparation companies to help detect suspicious returns and reduce the number of stolen refunds.
Though progress has been made in lowering the number stolen refunds, tax return fraud and scams continue to be a major challenge facing the IRS, costing victims a total of $1.7 billion in 2016 alone. In 2010, 76,000 low-income senior citizens were victims of this theft. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 82,000 complaints related to tax-refund fraud.
Jones campaign director blasts Tuberville for saying $600 “too much” for out-of-work Alabamians
The communications director for U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign on Wednesday called out Tommy Tuberville for saying that $600 in emergency unemployment aid was too much for Alabamians.
“Tommy Tuberville once again proves he’s out of touch with Alabama. When he ‘resigned’ from his job as a football coach he took a $5.1 million payout for himself. To this day, he receives $800 a week in State Retirement funds for a coaching job he ‘quit’ in 2008,” said Owen Kilmer, communications Director for Jones’s Senate campaign, in a statement Wednesday.
“But he says $600 in emergency benefits is ‘way too much’ for people in Alabama who lost their jobs in this crisis through no fault of their own. Tuberville says $600 is ‘way too much’ to help people put food on the table and pay utilities,” Kilmer continued. “No wonder, when asked about how to handle this crisis, he said ‘I wouldn’t have a clue.’ It’s true. He doesn’t.”
Tuberville, the Republican Senate nominee, is trying to unseat Jones in the November general election. Jones has called the former Auburn football coach and first-time political candidate an “unprepared hyper-partisan.”
Sens. Doug Jones, Cory Gardner introduce the American Dream Down Payment Act
Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner have introduced the American Dream Down Payment Act of 2020, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would help prospective homeowners save for a traditional 20 percent down payment by creating special tax-advantaged savings accounts for eligible housing costs.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate our nation’s economy, it is getting even harder for many folks in Alabama and across the country to put money away in savings and to work toward the American dream of owning a home,” Jones said. “Down payments are the biggest barrier to homeownership for first-time homebuyers, especially among low-income and minority Americans, and make it harder to build generational wealth that is often tied to home-ownership. Our legislation would provide a new path to help make the dream of buying a home a reality by making it easier to save money for down payments and other housing-related costs.”
“A down payment on a home can be a significant barrier to becoming a homeowner,” Gardner said. “Inspired by the popular 529 education savings accounts, this bipartisan bill will make it easier for people to save for a down payment, which will aid both our unique housing challenges in Colorado and our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to work with Senators Jones and Brown to help more families achieve the American Dream and own a home.”
These accounts would be similar to the popular 529 Plan accounts that encourage people to save pre-tax money to pay for future education expenses. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is the ranking member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee and an original co-sponsor of the legislation.
The sponsors cite a recent survey by the Urban Institute that found that more than two-thirds of renters view down payments as a barrier to owning a home. As rents and student loan debt rise, it can be harder for prospective homeowners to save for a down payment, especially if they are a first-time homebuyer or aren’t able to receive help from family members.
“Borrowers of color have been locked out of affordable homeownership for decades,” Brown said. “The gap in Black and white homeownership rates remain as large now as it was before the Fair Housing Act was signed into law. These troubling and persistent inequities in homeownership rates have prevented generations of Black and brown families from obtaining the American dream of owning a home. The American Dream Down Payment Act is a new tool to help make homeownership a reality.”
Even though the nationwide homeownership rate is relatively stable, there are significant disparities in homeownership by age, race and ethnicity. The Black homeownership rate, which peaked just prior to the Great Recession, has fallen to a 50-year low in 2016, at just 41.7 percent. That remains nearly 30 points below the white homeownership rate. This is before the recent COVID-19 economic panic. Millennials are less likely to own a home by age 34 than their parents or grandparents were. If these trends continue, a growing number of Americans will be locked out of homeownership.
“The introduction of the American Dream Down Payment Act offers Black American families and individuals the opportunity to build legacy wealth through homeownership,” Brown added. “The ability to accumulate tax-free savings funds breaks down/eliminates one of the most prominent barriers to achieving homeownership, the down payment. This Act serves as a tangible springboard to increase Black homeownership and real wealth-building prospects which the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) includes in the meaning of its time-honored slogan, Democracy in Housing,” said Donnell Williams, National President, National Association of Real Estate Brokers.”
The American Dream Down Payment Act would let states establish American Dream Down Payment Accounts, which they would manage in the same way they manage 529 Plan accounts today. It would also allow prospective homeowners to save up as much as 20 percent of today’s housing cost, indexed for inflation, to use for an eligible down payment and other housing costs. It would facilitate long-term savings for a down payment and allow contributions from family and friends and allow homebuyers using their American Dream Down Payment Account savings and earnings to use those funds tax-free at withdrawal for eligible expenses.
To protect American Dream Down Payment Account holders, the Securities and Exchange Commission would be required to set standards for the investments of eligible accounts and allowable fees.
This legislation is supported by the National Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
Jones is a member of the Senate Banking and Housing Committee. Both Jones and Gardner face tough re-election battles this year.
Payroll Protection Program deadline has been extended to Saturday
Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, this week reminded business owners that the deadline to apply for the Payroll Protection Program, knowns as the PPP, has been extended to Saturday.
“The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline was recently extended to Saturday, August 8,” Roby wrote in an email to constituents. “Do not forget to fill out your application if you are a small business that has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.“
The PPP was a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration. It was part of the bipartisan CARES Act to address the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the forced economic shutdowns, which were implemented in the early months of the public health emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel strain of the coronavirus and allow public health agencies and health care systems time to build up testing, contact-tracing and hospital bed capacity.
The PPP loans are 1 percent interest loans available through the SBA. If the business uses the money to make payroll and pay standard operating expenses then the loans will be forgiven. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. The loan forgiveness form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers.
The PPP has been very popular, so much so that that program ran out of money just weeks after Congress passed it. Congress had to go back and provide more funding for the PPP.
Businesses can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.
Senate Democrats are meeting with the Trump Administration, Senate Republicans and House leadership on a compromise plan for a fifth coronavirus relief package. A big point of contention has been the size of the total package. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, supports a $3.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill while Republicans prefer a more modest $1 trillion relief bill. The two sides are expected to continue to negotiate through Friday in an attempt to reach a compromise before the August recess.
Roby is serving in her fifth term representing Alabama’s 2nd congressional district. She is not seeking re-election.
Entrance fees to visit federal public lands are waived today
The United States Department of Interior has designated Wednesday as a fee-free day for public lands to commemorate the signing of the Great American Outdoors Act, which is aimed at addressing the historically underfunded, multi-billion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog at national parks and public lands. In celebration of this achievement, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that entrance fees paid by visitors coming to lands managed by the department will be waived on Aug. 5.
Bernhardt also announced that Aug. 4 will be designated “Great American Outdoors Day,” a fee-free day each year moving forward to commemorate the signing of the act.
“President Trump has just enacted the most consequential dedicated funding for national parks, wildlife refuges, public recreation facilities and American Indian school infrastructure in U.S. history,” Bernhardt said. “I’ve designated August 4th as Great American Outdoors Day and waived entrance fees to celebrate the passage of this historic conservation law.”
Entrance fees will be waived at all fee collecting public lands at the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The department holds fee-free days throughout the year to encourage visitation and appreciation for America’s public lands. On fee-free days, site-specific standard amenity and day-use fees at recreation sites and areas will be waived for the specified dates. Other fees, such as overnight camping, cabin rentals, group day use and use of special areas will remain in effect.
There are other remaining fee-free days in 2020.
For the National Park Service, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Aug. 25 is National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.
For the Bureau of Land Management, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.
For U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands, Aug. 5 is Great American Outdoors Act Commemoration, Sept. 26 is National Public Lands Day, Oct. 11 is First Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week and Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.
On March 3, President Trump called on Congress to send him a bill that fully and permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restored our National Parks. The president noted that it would be historic for America’s beautiful public lands when he signed such a bill into law. The Trump Administration worked with Congress to secure the passage of this landmark conservation legislation, which will use revenues from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years in the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools. It will also use royalties from offshore oil and natural gas to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund to the tune of $900 million a year to invest in conservation and recreation opportunities across the country.
“We’re here today to celebrate the passage of truly landmark legislation that will preserve America’s majestic natural wonders, priceless historic treasures — and that’s exactly what they are — grand national monuments, and glorious national parks,” Pres. Trump said. “This is a very big deal. And from an environmental standpoint and from just the beauty of our country standpoint, there hasn’t been anything like this since Teddy Roosevelt, I suspect.”
Last year, the NPS welcomed 327 million visitors who generated an economic impact of more than $41 billion and supported more than 340,000 jobs. The increasing popularity of our public lands has resulted in our national parks needing upgrades and improvements for more than 5,500 miles of paved roads, 17,000 miles of trails and 24,000 buildings. This legislation provides a long-term solution to this significant issue for the benefit of the American people and the betterment of our public lands.
Approximately 67 million visitors annually come to BLM-managed lands, supporting approximately 48,000 jobs nationwide and contributing almost $7 billion to the U.S. economy. BLM-managed public lands offer a wide array of recreational opportunities including hiking, hunting, fishing, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, boating, rafting, off-highway vehicle driving, rock climbing and more.
FWS welcomes approximately 54 million people to refuges each year. Their spending generates $3.2 billion in sales to local economies, employing more than 41,000 people and providing $1.1 billion in employment income.