Millions could be surprised as their tax refunds shrink
Average amount is down 8% from last year’s figure
Millions of Americans filling out their 2018 taxes are likely to be surprised that their refund is smaller than expected or that they owe money to the IRS after years of receiving refunds.
People are already taking to social media to vent their anger, and many are blaming President Donald Trump and Republicans for their shrinking refund, using the hashtag #GOPTaxScam. Some on Twitter have even said they voted for Trump but won’t do so again after seeing their refund slashed.
The uproar comes after Trump and congressional Republicans passed a major overhaul of the tax code in December 2017, the biggest legislative achievement of the president’s first year. While the vast majority of Americans did get a tax cut in 2018, refunds are a different matter. Some refunds have decreased because of the changes in the tax code made by the law, such as a new limit on property and local income tax deductions, and some have decreased because of how the IRS has altered withholding in paychecks.
John Prugh of Ewing Township, N.J., was irate when he completed his 2018 tax return this month and discovered his refund would be $3,000 less than what he received last year. Prugh considers himself “solidly middle class.”
The 39-year-old is a manager at a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and his wife works for the state government. They have two children. Prugh said he had no reason to think their tax situation would change this year, since he and his wife have lived in the same house for years and have received about the same pay in their jobs and have two kids.
“It totally feels like a scam,” Prugh said. “I did still get a small refund, but compared to what I was expecting from previous years, it was shock.”
The average tax refund check is down 8 percent ($170) this year versus last, the IRS reported Friday, and the number of people receiving a refund has dropped by almost a quarter.
A IRS spokesman said not to read much into this early data because it only reflects returns processed through Feb. 1, and the partial govern- Nation & World briefs ............ Page B2
demands for more border security, referred to the disagreement in a tweet on Sunday.
“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal. They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” the president wrote.
Lawmakers had been trading offers over how much money could go to barriers along the U.S.Mexico border, and were looking at a range between $1.3 billion and $2 billion — far short of the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded. The White House had begun to signal flexibility on that issue, even though Trump would end up with much less money than he sought, and the enhanced fencing or other barriers agreed to by Congress would fall short of the 200-plus miles of steel walls he’d wanted.
But throughout the talks, Democrats had also been focused on limiting ICE’s ability to detain unauthorized immigrants, which has become a major issue for the party because of their opposition to the Trump administration’s aggressive detention tactics. The Democrats’ proposal included a new limit on detention beds for immigrants picked up not at the border, but in the interior of the country.
Democrats wanted to cap that number at 16,500, which they said is around the level of interior detentions in the final years of the Obama administration. Republicans proposed excluding immigrants with criminal records from the cap. But Democrats said that would make the cap toothless, because it would amount to giving ICE free rein to round up thousands of immigrants without criminal records, on top of unlimited numbers of immigrants with criminal convictions.
On MSNBC Sunday afternoon, Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., defended the Democratic position on bed space and accused Republicans of misrepresenting the facts.
“This news came from Republicans who have decided that their narrative is going to be that we’re trying to reduce beds for violent criminals, and that’s just not true,” Hill said.
Democrats, newly in control of the House, have faced pressure from some liberals in their ranks to draw a much harder line in their negotiations over the border. Liberals including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have proposed entirely cutting funding to ICE, and refusing any additional money for border barriers whatsoever.
Democrats on the bipartisan negotiating committee have resisted those demands. But Republicans quickly seized on the new dispute over detention beds to try to lump all Democrats in with the most liberal elements in the party.
“Now, apparently, not only is it enough they want to abolish ICE. They want to abolish the bed spaces available to the country to house violent offenders, so they can be held and deported,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Channel. “I promise you this. Donald Trump is not going to sign any bill that reduces the number of bed spaces available to hold violent offenders who come across our border. He can’t do that. He won’t do that, and you can take that to the bank.”
The fight over how many immigrants can be detained at once became problematic in recent days, just as the White House began signaling to negotiators that it would be more flexible on how much money Congress appropriated for a wall along the Mexico border.
White House officials have become increasingly confident that by declaring a national emergency, Trump will be able to redirect billions of dollars in other federal funding to be used for a wall or barriers. One scenario they had prepared for was for Congress to pass a bill appropriating some money for border security and then using the national emergency declaration to loosen even more funds.
This could draw legal challenges from Democrats, landowners and other groups, but White House officials and some external advisers have said it was the best way to proceed.
A total breakdown in talks poses a new set of challenges, however. It dramatically increases the odds of another partial government shutdown beginning Saturday. This would prevent roughly 800,000 federal workers from being paid indefinitely.
During the last shutdown, which began Dec. 22, the White House relied on hundreds of thousands of federal employees to continue coming to work unpaid for more than a month in order for key government services to continue, including Border Patrol agents, Secret Service officers, airport screeners and air traffic controllers.
Many of the federal employees, however, refused to show up for work and called in sick, including airport screeners and Internal Revenue Service officers, and its unclear what they would do if there’s another shutdown. The IRS is in the midst of tax filing season, and a major disruption could have huge implications for the ability of millions of Americans to obtain tax refunds in a timely fashion.
California withdrawing some troops: California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans Monday to withdraw several hundred National Guard troops from the state’s southern border with Mexico in defiance of the Trump administration’s request for support from border states.
About 100 of the 360 troops will remain deployed under California’s agreement with the federal government to focus specifically on combating transnational crime such as drug and gun smuggling, Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said.
Specifically, they will be tasked with providing intelligence on transnational crime and assist with cargo dock operations and searches of commercial trucks for contraband.
Newsom’s move comes on the heels of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, pulling back her state’s troops from the U.S.-Mexico border. The two state’s former governors agreed to send troops to the border last April at the Trump administration’s request along with Texas and Arizona.