March 22, 2018
Warren Requests IRS Information on Use of Private Debt Collectors for Taxpayers Affected by Federally Declared Disasters
President Trump has Issued 50 Major Disasters Declarations since Start of Private Debt Collection Program
Text of the letter (PDF)
Washington, DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) today sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Acting Commissioner David Kautter requesting information on whether the IRS and its contractors have implemented the debt collection program in a manner consistent with the law for taxpayers impacted by federally declared disasters.
The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 directed the IRS to contract with private companies to help collect outstanding tax debts. In April 2017, the IRS began collecting tax debts through four private debt collection companies: CBE Group, Conserve, Performant, and Pioneer. The FAST Act states that a taxpayer determined to be affected by a federally declared disaster under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act can request immediate relief from private debt collection.
“Federal law restricts the ability of private debt collectors that receive contracts from the Internal Revenue Service to collect debts from taxpayers ‘affected by a federally declared disaster,’” the senators wrote. “Given the large number of taxpayers affected by federally declared disasters in 2017 – including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, wildfires in California and other sites, and floods in New England, we are writing to request information to determine if the IRS’s private debt collection program may have unduly burdened taxpayers affected by natural disasters.”
Since private debt collectors began collections in April 2017, President Trump has issued 50 major disaster declarations in response to natural catastrophes. On August 25, 2017, President Trump declared a major disaster in Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Florida were declared disaster areas in September as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, while Alabama and Mississippi received major disaster declarations as a result of Hurricane Nate in November. President Trump declared major disasters in California as a result of a spate of severe wildfires in the state, in New England as a result of floods, and throughout the Midwest and South due to tornadoes, flooding, and straight-line winds.
Senator Warren requested information about the IRS and IRS contractors’ implementation of the private debt collection program for taxpayers impacted by federally declared disasters by no later than April 5, 2018.
Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:
- To mark six months since Hurricane Maria, authored a Medium post available in English and in Spanish, and co-sponsored a resolution by Senator Bob Menendez pledging continued support for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Joined her colleagues in writing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information about the draw-down of Army Corps personnel working on electricity restoration, especially on the island of Vieques.
- Led her colleagues in writing to FEMA to and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information on federal efforts to restore the electric grid in Puerto Rico, nearly six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
- Called on the Treasury Department to provide to Puerto Rico the full Community Disaster Loan appropriated by Congress, and to offer terms that will promote the island's recovery.
- Led a group of three senators in requesting information on FEMA's plans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season following the catastrophes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Joined Senator Blumenthal in calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the contracting process for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
- Along with colleagues from both chambers of Congress and both sides of the aisle, reminded Puerto Rico’s Oversight Board that federal relief funds for Puerto Rico are intended for disaster relief and rebuilding, not for paying creditors.
- Urged FEMA to extend benefits for the Transitional Shelter Assistance program to Puerto Rico evacuees.
- Requested that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security expand its review of FEMA's contracting in Puerto Rico to include the $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for self-heating meals.
- Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census.
- Led her colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Food and Drug Administration highlighting the impact of drug and medical device shortages on Massachusetts medical centers after Hurricane Maria.
- Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to request information on SAMHSA's efforts to address mental health challenges in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Led a congressional delegation trip to Puerto Rico to conduct oversight of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.
- Led eight of her colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in writing to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to request that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Called for an investigation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. (The DHS IG has said it will investigate.)
- Introduced a comprehensive plan, along with Senator Sanders and colleagues, to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.
- Led five of her Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense to request information on the Department's efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort in the Department's Puerto Rico response efforts.
- Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Urged Puerto Rico's Financial Oversight and Management Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico's debt restructuring completely write off the Island's debt obligations.
- Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.
- Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
- Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
- Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
- Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
- Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
- Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
- Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
- Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.
- Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.
- Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.