Cost of IRS rebate letters engenders comment

Over the weekend, the Internal Revenue Service received a lot of attention from Op ed columnists, letter writers, and general news media, in this case because the agency spent $42 million to mail out 130 million letters to individuals who filed a 2006 federal return telling them that they might receive a rebate. Taxpayers who expect to file for 2007 were told that checks would be mailed in May for $600 (or $1,200 if filing jointly), along with an additional $300 per child, and that to receive the payment, the taxpayer did not have to do anything.

A sampling of comment includes: from the Associated Press, "At a cost of nearly $42 million, the IRS wants you to know: Your check is almost in the mail." And from the Altoona Mirror in Altoona, PA, "What would you do with $42 million? Retire? Take an extended vacation? Buy a mansion? . . . Is there anyone who hasn't heard about the rebate checks from the news over the past few months?"

Apparently the sense of outrage was bipartisan. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) joined Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) in criticizing the cost of the mailing, according to In-Forum.

In fairness to the IRS, the letters provided information about who qualifies for the rebate, reminded people to file their 2007 returns promptly, and said that future mailings would be directed to those who receive Social Security and railroad retirement benefits. This last, however, might also lead to some head scratching, because it is not easy to understand why people who are already expected to file need this information.

The IRS is making an effort to reach as many individuals who might qualify as possible, to let them know that they must file a return to receive a rebate. The next mailing, to 20 million Social Security and railroad retirement beneficiaries, is a 10-page packet containing everything the recipients will need to file a 2007 return, including information, tips, and both a sample 1040A and a blank 1040A, the Associated Press says.

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