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Carol Anne Costa: The IRS Spends While We Cut

Thursday, June 06, 2013

 

As the sequester continues to cut into the services that help Rhode Islanders get by, the IRS throws a lavish party.

A friend called me for advice, and as I listened to her stressed and defeated voice on the line my heart sank. Her parents, now in their early 70’s were at risk of losing their home. The call must have been very hard for her to make. “I don’t know what to do or where to begin. Can we have coffee, I just need to talk?"

As I processed the call and the reach for help, to lend support and an ear, all I could think of was the fact that this family did everything right. They worked hard, paid their taxes, sent their kids to college and in return, the deep recession, job loss, illness, and the plummeting value of their home put them in this simply awful predicament. Many people, including my friend’s parents, are still hurting from the banking crisis, high unemployment rates, draconian budget cuts that shred the social safety net and these unfortunate truths have flooded downhill to cities, towns, school systems, health delivery and research facilities and ultimately our kitchen tables.

And, then within hours of that phone call, the story of the IRS conference excesses broke. To say I was furious would be a colossal understatement. A family I love and admire was living through a personal hell and this agency was frivolously spending our money with a deep disregard of the realities of so many Americans. Let’s face it: from a PR standpoint the IRS does not evoke the warm fuzzies, even on a good day. The report got me thinking about this situation in terms of the sequester, the facts on the ground, and the wide and deep cuts currently in effect. Perhaps these numbers may make the excess much clearer.

Excess by the numbers

According the State of Rhode Island Municipal Finance 2010 survey, the combined budgets of 5 communities—Glocester, Jamestown, Little Compton, Warren and West Greenwich—total a little over 50 million dollars. The IRS sponsored 225 conferences between 2010-2012 for which the taxpayers of this nation paid an estimated cost of $49 million. The City of Woonsocket’s budget is approximately $50 million. Are you kidding me? The IRS literally line-danced, videotaped and swagged away the value of an entire city budget!

Wait, the line items make the abuse even harder to swallow. The IRS spent $15,669 on brief bags, $19,210 on lanyards, travel mugs, and picture frames and clocks emblazoned with the IRS logo, and about $27,000 on pens, badge holders, imprinted beer cozies, Post-It notes and various other promotional swag. This is gross! Did I mention that the full cost of a meal served by Meals on Wheels is $5.50 for lunch, $4.00 for sandwich meals, and $4.00 for breakfast? That represents the equivalent of nearly 10 million meals.

The Huffington Post chronicled the impact of the sequestration on Meals on Wheels in a June 4, 2013 story. This does not reconcile with how the rest of the country is living; by cutting, trimming and in some cases suffering. Note to the IRS … Captain’s Log- Star Date - June 6, 2013, “It appears the Starship IRS is careening out of control and is headed on a collision course with angry Earthlings.” Have you seen the $50K worth of IRS training videos? Warning… watch in small doses! 

How did the IRS manage to spend this much dough, while so many other agencies scramble?

As the collision of the sequester and humans unfolds like a slow-motion car wreck, I cannot get out of my head its massive blow to the needy, the working poor and the middle class. Head Start is being slashed, low-income rental subsidies are being cut, Meals on Wheels is being trimmed, civilian military attachment jobs reduced, National Institute of Health research impacted, National Parks hit by cuts, unemployment benefits reduced and the list goes on and on.

Look, it is no secret I am left of center on many issues. I spend much precious time promoting why I think government is necessary and essential for every American, the economy and it is not too big or Big Brother. But, it seems I am bracing in crash position on this one. In the wake of the General Service Administration’s well-documented conference abuse in 2010, one would think some at the nation’s accounting and auditing department would have said, “Freeze." That was not to be. I am guessing the arrogance of those running the agency felt impervious to reality. Who suffers? The rest of us!

These careless actions must be loudly condemned

I really need to hear those in power come out loud and strong on this one. They must be on the record as small business folks face costly audits, taxpayers stress to pay their taxes to municipalities and the state and federal government and as so many people continue to suffer as our economy slowly recovers. I for one cannot fathom a defense or even an explanation for this gluttony. Perhaps, I should engage the services of the so called “happiness expert”, Shawn Achor, hired for the IRS Anaheim Conference at a mere $11,430.00. As for my friend, I will do everything to help her and her family get through the tough times ahead, as it is only us who will help each other.

Read the Office of the Inspector General’s report, which details the absolute disregard for the American taxpayers, but brace yourself for impact.

 

A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.

 

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