On March 27, President Trump signed the CARES Act, a two trillion dollar emergency relief bill, into law. This monumental legislation provided a cash infusion to individuals, businesses and health care facilities affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Included in the provisions was a $1,200 economic impact payment for millions of Americans. The bill authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to coordinate sending out those payments. On April 2, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the first of the payments would be sent “within two weeks.”
The bill — and Mnuchin’s promise — meant that many at the IRS saw their jobs change drastically as they worked to set up a payment system and get Economic Impact Payments delivered. The Indian SCENE spoke with Kaschit Pandya, 45, the deputy chief information officer (CIO) of information technology operations at the IRS since February, about what he and his teams experienced in the days following Mnuchin’s press conference.
While Pandya didn’t have a say in determining who qualified for the payments or the timeline for sending them out, once the bill had passed, he knew his teams were responsible for delivering on the Treasury Secretary’s words. It was already a busy time: the CARES Act had also included an extension of the filing deadline, and IRS staffers were working to incorporate that modification into their system.
“Within a matter of two weeks, we had to get a brand-new application up and running,” said Pandya, who works on everything from overseeing data centers to reviewing, validating and assessing technology programs for the IRS. “I’m just one part of it. There were swarms of teams working 24 hours, seven days a week.”
His teams — there are 7,200 IT staffers at the IRS — worked around the clock to set up a new portal and track down bank account information for people they didn’t have on file.
“It’s easy to hand out direct deposits if we have your bank information on hand,” said Pandya. But the situation was made trickier by the fact that some aren’t required to file tax returns in the first place — maybe because their only income was from social security, or they identified as veterans who didn’t file taxes, or their incomes were below a certain level.
“We had no record of them,” said Pandya. His teams worked with multiple government agencies to obtain information about these individuals, process it, and send out payments.
By April 15, two weeks after Mnuchin’s initial announcement, Pandya says the IRS had delivered approximately 80 million payments totaling over 150 billion dollars.
Like any new online system, there were hiccups. Soon enough after the announcement, people started sharing stories on social media about encountering error messages while trying to check the status of their payment.
“It’s easy to lose heart, seeing those headlines and knowing how much work the teams did to provide the relief needed for the country,” said Pandya. “We have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture… and continue to focus on the greater good, getting money to the hands of individuals.”
Along with his teams, Pandya worked to identify the errors and address them in updated versions of the payment portal. As they started to collect statistics, Pandya and IRS IT staffers could see how many people were utilizing the website, how many had received successful confirmation and how many had not. For some, Pandya said, delays occurred because direct deposit information wasn’t available or was provided only after paper checks were printed and scheduled for mailing.
As of May 22, the Treasury Department says more than 157 million payments totaling $264 billion have been delivered. It also announced that an additional four million payments would be sent in the form of prepaid debit cards, rather than paper checks.
“It required a lot of sacrifices and dedication from a large swath of teams working tirelessly,” said Pandya. “And it’s not as if we were or are living in a normal world… but people were dedicated to deliver on a promise that was made.”
By now, Pandya says, if you haven’t received a payment or are not seeing a status update online, it may be because you are not eligible for payment. He recommended that anyone who hasn’t yet filed their taxes do so electronically when they choose to. In the event there are future stimulus payments, those with bank information on file with the IRS will receive their payments the fastest. (Additionally, taxpayers who submit tax returns via physical mail may be sending documents to facilities that are not currently open for in-person work. Electronically, those taxes could be processed faster.)
Pandya said the IRS did work to ensure that those with the lowest salaries were first in line to receive the stimulus. “But for those who had direct deposit information on file, it was far more likely to receive payments in the first two weeks, regardless of salary.”
“I can’t stress enough the importance and benefit of leveraging and using electronic submission for fastest access to information and funds made available to you,” he added.
For those who still have concerns or are waiting on a payment, Pandya recommends looking at the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the IRS’s “Get My Payment” portal.
He says these were developed with the “direct involvement” of assistant secretaries reporting to the Treasury Secretary and contain the most up-to-date and comprehensive information about what might be happening.