- The Washington Times
Monday, January 7, 2019

The IRS will send out tax refunds during the government shutdown, the Trump administration said Monday, in the latest move to blunt the effects of the funding battle that has shut down parts of the federal government.

The Interior Department also said it will use entrance fees to pick up trash, clean bathrooms and do emergency road maintenance at the country’s national parks.

Vice President Mike Pence and other officials, briefing reporters, said the administration is doing whatever it can within the limits of the law to minimize the impact of the partial shutdown, which has left an estimated 350,000 federal workers on furlough and forced more than 400,000 others to work without immediate pay.

The IRS’s ability to process returns is a reversal from previous years, when the agency did not have the power. An administration official said the IRS argued in 2011 it had the ability, but the White House budget office under President Obama overruled the agency.

Now under President Trump, the Office of Management and Budget has revisited that decision and concluded the IRS already has an indefinite appropriation for processing refunds, so that function is immune from a shutdown.

“Tax refunds will go out,” said Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The IRS said Monday it will process returns starting on Jan. 28 and that it will be recalling a “significant portion” of furloughed agency employees back to work. The agency plans to release an updated shutdown contingency plan in the coming days.

The new Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said that IRS plan is overdue, and he said he’ll be interested to see how the agency plans to carry out its duties on limited staff.

“These developments are no substitute for funding the government and fully reopening these agencies,” said Rep. Richard Neal, Massachusetts Democrat.

At the White House, Mr. Vought said the administration also has taken steps to make sure that Coast Guard members receive their pay during the shutdown and that federal flood-insurance policies are still being issued.

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt informed Congress that he’s ordered the Park Service to update its shutdown plans to use “recreation fee funds” to clean up and maintain park sites.

Unlike past shutdowns, the Trump administration has made a point to keep open-air parks open during the shutdown — though reports of trash buildups and potentially unsafe conditions have left some administration critics to question the wisdom of that decision.

Mr. Bernhardt said if the shutdown is “prolonged,” the fees may run out and he’ll have to consider other options.

Mr. Vought said Fish and Wildlife Service refuges will also be kept open for the next 30 days.

“Our mission from the president has been to make this shutdown as painless as possible, consistent with the law,” Mr. Vought said. “We have built on past efforts within this administration not to have the shutdown be used to weaponize against the American people.”

The partial government shutdown also is creating potential problems millions of low-income tenants who depend on funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency sent a letter last week to 1,500 landlords who have tenants under federal rental assistance programs, including Section 8 vouchers, urging them not to start evictions over lapsed HUD funding.

HUD officials reportedly are tapping reserve funds.

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