Sen. Ron Wyden speaks during a hearing

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) speaks during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on April 15, 2021. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Wyden Warns Millions of Poor Families Could Be 'Denied' Child Tax Credit Unless IRS Acts

Without urgent fixes to a shoddy online application portal, Wyden said, many of "America's most vulnerable communities" will not receive the expanded monthly benefit.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, warned Thursday that millions of poor and vulnerable families across the U.S. could be "denied" benefits from a newly launched child tax credit program unless the Internal Revenue Service acts quickly to improve a key online application portal.

The online tool was unveiled last month with the stated goal of helping low-income people who aren't required to submit a tax return--and thus don't have information on file with the IRS--gain access to the expanded CTC, which Congress approved in March. The IRS has been tasked with administering the program, despite concerns over the agency's ability to handle the distribution of monthly payments to tens of millions of households on top of its other obligations.

"Many of the most vulnerable families in this country only access the internet via their mobile devices. Yet, the portal does not account for this reality."
--Sen. Ron Wyden

Last week, top Senate Democrats--including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)--waved away questions about the navigability of the non-filer portal, which is English-only and lacks a fully functional mobile option. The tool was developed under a widely criticized arrangement between the IRS and Intuit, the private financial software company behind TurboTax.

"It's a very simple way to file," Schumer insisted during a press conference last Thursday.

But in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Thursday, Wyden (D-Ore.) cautioned that "technological and design constraints on the portal will prevent America's most vulnerable communities--those who make so little income they previously did not file--from even applying for this important funding."

"This is because, as has become all too apparent over the course of the Covid-19 public health and economic crisis, many of the most vulnerable families in this country only access the internet via their mobile devices," Wyden wrote. "Yet, the portal does not account for this reality, and is not optimized to work on mobile devices, or in languages other than English."

The Oregon Democrat's letter echoes the warnings of community advocacy groups, which have been saying for weeks that the non-filer portal in its current form is far too shoddy to serve as an effective method of increasing access to the boosted CTC.

"Was an explicit decision made either by the IRS or the private-sector partners to not create an accessible website?" Wyden asked.

While the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers have pointed to estimates suggesting the expanded CTC could slash child poverty in half, analysts have said the program will fall well short of that mark unless action is taken to ensure payments reach eligible non-filers. The Biden White House has faced criticism for not doing enough to publicize the online portal, and grassroots advocacy organizations have scrambled to fill the leadership vacuum.

"We'll be lucky if the real poverty-reduction number is even half of what has been projected," Matt Bruenig of the People's Policy Project, a left-wing think tank, said in May.

Most eligible recipients will receive expanded CTC payments automatically each month. On July 15, the program's launch date, the Treasury Department said payments went out to families that include at least 60 million children.

But Wyden wrote in his letter that if the shortcomings of the non-filer tool are "not rectified, millions of American families could be denied the opportunity to provide a more secure future for their children and break the cycle of poverty for so many."

"As such," the Oregon Democrat continued, "I urge the IRS to direct Intuit and the Free File Alliance to update the existing non-filer sign-up tool, or find a different solution, to ensure this country's most vulnerable working families, including those who do not speak English or only have a mobile device, have access to the Child Tax Credit."

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