One of Biden’s signature anti-poverty programs is the Child Tax Credit, which gives families $300 per month per child as a tax refund (if someone pays no taxes, they receive a check). Unfortunately, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired (boldface mine):
While this money will be automatically sent out to families who file taxes, parents in the direst need of financial aid — those with incomes so low they don’t need to file taxes — must use a separate online portal to sign up for the benefit.
But already, the government’s website is proving to be very inaccessible….
The website requires Americans to have an email address before inputting any personal information, is only in English and only works on desktop computers or laptops. On a mobile phone, the website is essentially unusable, with the text stretching off of the screen.
“For it to reach the people we want it to reach and to have the impact we want, it needs to be in multiple languages,” Mata-Cisneros said. “We would like to see the email requirement eliminated. Making it mobile friendly — you can’t use it on your phone — we are really concerned about that.”
The online tool looks very similar to the government website the IRS used last year to distribute stimulus checks to this same population.
“In our assessment it’s pretty much inaccessible to a lot of underserved communities,” Jen Burdick, an attorney with the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, whose clients overwhelmingly ran into issues with the online portal last year. “All in all it means most people cannot do this on their own.”
…And, for those who do have an email address and access to a computer, the tool itself requires a level of tax literacy non-filers often don’t have, Burdick said. The platform doesn’t simplify information requests like TurboTax would, instead it looks like a government tax return document…
The IRS says it is working to improve the website but pointed out that the tool was built with two private partners: Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, and the Free File Alliance….
Meanwhile, Intuit was quick to blame the IRS for usability issues.
Responding to one user who complained via Twitter that they couldn’t use the tool on their smartphone, an Intuit QuickBooks IT support team employee responded that the “website was created by the IRS.”
These failures of governance provide an opportunity–if Biden is willing to seize it (boldface mine):
The issues with getting the very poor into this program appear to be, at least in part, artifacts of anticompetitive agreements between the IRS and members of the Free File Alliance. These firms know that the IRS obviously has the capability to provide higher quality and lower-cost tax filing services to the public. Such a competitive public option for tax filing would clearly drive most of them out of business, so they spend their money and lobbying efforts on making sure the public never gets such a public option. In general, it’s the public who loses here. And in the case of the CTC, it’s the most impoverished children in our society who will lose out due to Intuit’s greed.
We can and should build a coherent welfare state to meet the basic needs of everyone in our society. The CTC has design problems that hamper its ability to rise to that challenge, and PPP has criticized those flaws. But the Non-filer Sign-up Tool is a huge red flag that, beyond the design flaws, there are administrative issues with the program. The difference is, for some of those administrative issues, like the problems with this tool, Joe Biden does not need a single vote to fix them. He just needs to call up Janet Yellen and demand an immediate fix. He is the President, after all, and his flagship program is on the line.
Longer term, the IRS needs to rip up these mafia-like agreements with Intuit and the FFA, and create a free, public tax-filing service administered by the government itself. The American public deserves to not be treated like fools by profit-seekers like Intuit.
If you want people to turn out to vote for you, people have to like this crap. If you make a program impossible to use, especially in the service of corporate profits, this, oddly enough, demobilizes voters. Biden could fix this, but will he? Democrats have to learn that, when they control the executive branch, they actually have to…execute. Of course, that might involve pissing off campaign contributors, but Democrats are going to have to pick some fights.