OGDEN — If the federal government shutdown continues, it won’t just be the thousands of furloughed Ogden-area Internal Revenue Service employees who feel the pinch.
With tax season fast approaching, filers nationwide seeking money back on their 2018 income taxes could also feel the impact as well in the form of delayed refunds, says Jenny Brown, head of the union representing local IRS employees. Moreover, she said, with Ogden serving as a support center for income tax inquiries from the general public, those with questions could have a tougher time getting answers.
Given minimal IRS staffing, those with questions are “not going to get through” on IRS phone lines or they’re going to have much longer waits than the norm, said Brown, president of Local 67 of the National Treasury Employees Union. Employers typically distribute Form W-2s to workers by late January each year, key in filling out federal tax forms, and filing typically follows — accompanied by questions from the public — through the April 15 filing deadline.
In the meantime, the nerves of the many area residents who rely on the IRS for their livelihood are fraying as the partial shutdown, which started Dec. 22, approaches the two-week mark. The IRS, within the U.S. Department of Treasury, is one of the impacted agencies and it’s also one of the major Weber County job providers, employing around 5,000 people across several scattered locations in the area.
In fact, according to Utah Department of Workforce Services data in Weber County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2017, filed last June, the IRS is the second-biggest employer in the county. The Ogden area, Brown said, is one of five major IRS campuses around the country. And in terms of Weber County people employed, it trailed only Hill Air Force Base in neighboring Davis County, not impacted by the shutdown and employer of between 10,000 and 14,999 workers, according to the 2017 report.
“People are just getting very frustrated. We are just wanting to get back to work,” said Brown, a 33-year IRS employee. “Everybody’s very nervous. Nobody knows what to do.”
The shutdown, impacting about a quarter of the federal government, started after Congress and President Donald Trump failed to reach accord on a stopgap funding bill for the affected agencies. As a result, 380,000 federal workers in all across the nation have been furloughed, according to the Associated Press, and another 420,000 or so are working without pay until the situation is resolved. Differences between Congressional Democrats and Trump over increasing funding to beef up the wall separating the United States and Mexico led to the stalemate, and Brown isn’t encouraged where the negotiations are headed.
She’s gone through shutdowns before, notably a three-week stoppage in 2013. But with those shutdowns, she said, “at least we thought we could see an end in sight,” a sensation that’s lacking this go-round. Here in the Ogden area, Brown estimates about 75 percent of the 5,000 or so IRS workers are furloughed while the rest work without pay pending a resolution to the impasse.
Workers could get pay back for the time they were furloughed. They have after past shutdowns, anyway. But federal lawmakers and Trump would have to approve such a disbursement. Meanwhile, furloughed workers here are scaling back their spending on things like restaurants and movies due to uncertainty about when they’ll see a paycheck again, which could affect the local economy, Brown said.