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Is Old Tech Standing Between You and that Stimulus Check?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced last week that stimulus checks would be deposited for some citizens by April 15. But this timeline is overly optimistic, according to some experts.

by / April 8, 2020

Some experts have expressed concern that the Internal Revenue Service's obsolete technology will be able to send stimulus checks via direct deposit by a week from today. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that citizens who have direct deposit set up with the IRS can expect their stimulus checks to come by April 15. According to USA Today, the deposits would be made for anywhere between 50 million and 70 million Americans. Mnuchin added that for those without direct deposit, checks would be sent within weeks. 

But multiple experts doubt the process will be that smooth. Nina Olson, former head of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, suggested some checks could be delivered within a matter of weeks. 

“But I don’t think everybody should expect their check in that time,” Olson said. “And it will take a period of time to get a bunch of those checks out.”

“There are going to be a lot of people for whom this is going to take a while, and I think it’s going to be measured in terms of months, not weeks,” Howard Gleckman, senior fellow with the Urban Institute's Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told USA Today

The skepticism exists for two reasons. First, some IRS IT systems are practically ancient. Two database systems have been around since the 1960s, as reported by USA Today. Second, the organization is considered understaffed. The IRS staff has decreased by 20 percent since 2010, and many existing employees could retire soon, as indicated in a Federal Computer Week report from last year.  

The IRS is aware of these limitations. Last year the organization shared a six-year plan to, among other actions, modernize its IT systems. The agency estimated that the plan would cost more than $2 billion to carry out. In 2018, the IRS system crashed on Tax Day due to a hardware problem. 

Tax Foundation economist Garrett Watson told USA Today that since more Americans file taxes electronically now, that should help with the stimulus check process. But he doesn't believe paper checks can go out in weeks. 

"This is partly due to out-of-date technology," Watson explained, "but is also driven by the fact that the IRS doesn’t have a smooth process to quickly send out tens of millions of rebates in only a handful of weeks."

The IRS and TurboTax launched an online portal for citizens who don't have to file taxes. The portal will allow this segment of the population to receive stimulus checks. 

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