Ways and Means Passes Curbelo-Sponsored Bills to Permanently Authorize Cost-Free Tax Preparation, Prevent Identity Theft
“VITA Permanence Act of 2017,” “Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act” Are Now Heading to the House Floor for Consideration
Today, two bills introduced by Representative Carlos Curbelo (FL-26) were unanimously passed by Republicans and Democrats during a markup of legislation to redesign the Internal Revenue Service, protect your private taxpayer information, and prevent identity theft of your Social Security numbers.
The two Curbelo bills, which are now heading to the House Floor for full consideration, are the bipartisan H.R. 2901, the “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Permanence Act of 2017,” and the bipartisan H.R. 5192, “Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act.” The “VITA Permanence Act” will permanently authorize free tax preparation services for taxpayers making less than $54,000 and for those with a limited proficiency in English. The “Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act” will help prevent children and immigrants’ identities from being stolen by a type of theft known as “synthetic ID fraud.”
Curbelo, South Florida’s only Member on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, has been a consistent advocate for the VITA program. After introducing the “VITA Permanence Act” he led a group of 55 bipartisan Members of Congress in a letter to urge House Appropriations leaders to provide full and robust funding for these programs. During a Ways and Means Committee hearing earlier this year, Curbelo urged Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to protect funding for programs like VITA. Curbelo was also honored to invite United Way Miami-Dade to Washington last year to testify before the Subcommittee on Oversight about the work they do to help South Floridians take full advantage of this free resource. Curbelo’s staff hosted multiple Mobile Office Hours throughout his district with VITA preparers, allowing constituents who qualified an easy opportunity to have their taxes prepared and filed on site.
Transcripts of Curbelo’s remarks at the markup of each bill earlier today are available below. Video of his “VITA Permanence Act of 2017” remarks is available here. Video of his “Protecting Children From Identity Theft Act” is available here.
Just Before Committee Passage, Curbelo Urges Colleagues to Support Free Tax Prep Program
Representative Carlos Curbelo: “Thank you very much Mr. Chairman and thank you Member Neal for bringing this bill, the ‘Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Permanence Act’ before the Committee today. And thank you, Congressman Davis for being my partner on this legislation.
“The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is a matching grant program administered by the IRS where the federal government partners with the local community to provide free tax preparation services to individuals with an annual income of less than $54,000 and for those with a limited proficiency in English.
“Tax return preparer fraud is a major problem in our country, and South Florida knows this well. The IRS consistently ranks preparer fraud among the most prevalent tax scams in their annual report. Each tax filing season, fraudulent preparers take advantage of taxpayers by claiming inflated expenses, false deductions, or unallowable credits on their clients return. They attract more business by promoting larger refunds, and may even siphon off the tax refund to their own accounts. Then when the IRS detects a false return, the taxpayer and not the return preparer is liable for the additional taxes and/or penalties.
“Unfortunately, it is those on the lower-end of the income spectrum and those who struggle with English that are the prime targets of fraudulent preparers.
“The VITA program offers a solution to vulnerable populations by not only filing their taxes for free, but doing so with a high level of accuracy. VITA preparers are IRS-certified and boast a 94% accuracy rating, which is among the highest of all preparers.
“The House and the Senate Appropriations Committees have continued to include strong funding for the VITA program regardless of which party is in the majority. H.R. 2901 would build upon this support by permanently authorizing the VITA grant program.
“Furthermore, H.R. 2901 would ensure that VITA preparers maintain their already strong accuracy rates by requiring accuracy rates above 90% in order to qualify.
“Filing a tax return can be enough of a headache on its own. Taxpayers should be able to file their tax returns confidently without the fear of being scammed. When taxpayers use VITA services to file their tax returns, they can rest assured knowing that their returns will be filed accurately and without the threat of fraud.
“Mr. Chairman, colleagues, this legislation will leave a lot of lower-income people better off. It will improve quality of life for people who want to comply with the tax code. I encourage all members of this committee to vote in favor of H.R. 2901, the ‘Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Permanence Act,’ which has a proven track record of success in assisting Americans in one of their most basic civic duties – filing their taxes.”
Curbelo Urges Committee Passage of Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act
Representative Carlos Curbelo: “Thank you very much Chairman Brady and Ranking Member Neal for bringing this bill, the ‘Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act’ before the Committee today. And thank you, Congressman Marchant, for being my partner on the legislation and for all of your work to bring this legislation to the Committee.
“Unfortunately, my district in South Florida is very familiar with the lengths at which fraudsters will go through to steal the identity of a child. The fact that children’s identities and personal information are being stolen 50 times more than adults cannot continue unaddressed.
“The Government Accountability Office describes synthetic identity fraud (SIF) as involving the creation of a fictitious identity by using a combination of real data, like a Social Security number or date of birth, from multiple individuals and fabricated information.
“Today, synthetic identity fraud accounts for 80 percent of all credit card fraud. Transunion says a record $355 million in outstanding credit-card balances was owed by people who it suspects didn’t exist in 2017, up more than eightfold from 2012.
“Synthetic identity fraud usually preys on children and immigrants. In the long-run it often times damages their credit history, making it more difficult to get approved for a mortgage or a credit card at a later point in life.
“We can do more to protect children and immigrants from identity theft. Through creative proposals, like the bill we are considering today, we can protect the identity of individuals by leveraging new technologies to simplify the verification system.
“H.R. 5192, the ‘Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act’ directs the Social Security Administration to accept electronic signatures when financial institutions want to verify their customers’ information. Currently, firms may seek verification one name and Social Security number at a time, or up to 10 at a time. The creditor must be in physical possession of the signed consent Form SSA-89, or so-called ‘wet signature,’ prior to requesting Social Security number verifications.
“Mr. Chairman, the goal of this bill is to change the outdated inefficiencies of the current system. The SSA provides important services and benefits that millions of Americans rely on. This bill protects the SSA’s ability to do its important work by requiring the users to cover all costs—both direct and indirect—of this new system. Under this bill, the SSA Commissioner is not allowed to begin development of the new verification system until the Commissioner determines that at least 50 percent of the program start-up costs have been covered by users. If the SSA temporarily uses IT modernization funds, the Commissioner is required to fully recover those funds through user fees. After initial development, users of the verification system are obligated to pay for the ongoing costs associated with this new workload by way of advances, reimbursements, user fees, or other recoveries as determined by the Commissioner. These users are financial institutions, by the way.
“Identity theft is an issue that affects each of our districts. We need efficient solutions that can help protect our children’s identities from bad actors. This bill is a step in the right direction. I encourage all of the Members of this Committee to vote in favor of H.R. 5192, the ‘Protecting Children from Identity Theft Act,’ to help modernize identity protections for our children.”