Collins, King Press IRS to Conduct Tax Assistance Outreach in Lewiston Area

Request comes in response to closure of local Taxpayer Assistance Center

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen urging the agency to ensure that people in the Lewiston area continue to have face-to-face assistance to help deal with their federal tax issues after the September 10th closing of Lewiston’s Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC). The Senators had actively opposed the IRS’s decision to close the Lewiston TAC because of the critical services it provided to local residents, particularly seniors and low-income individuals.
 
      “The closure of the Lewiston TAC will negatively affect many vulnerable populations in Maine, including elderly and low-income taxpayers, as well as those with limited English proficiency.  While we disagree strongly with the decision to close the TAC, we appreciate your commitment, in your response dated June 30, 2015, ‘to providing the best customer service to our taxpayers.’  In this spirit, we would like to work with you on ways to mitigate the impact of the Lewiston TAC closing,”said Senators Collins and King in their letter this week. “We urge you to consider having a TAC employee hold at least monthly (and much more often during tax season) office hours and community outreach in a library or other community space in the tri-county area of Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties. […]We look forward to working with you and are hopeful that we can find creative solutions to ensure that western Mainers will continue to have access to face-to-face assistance with their federal tax issues.”  
 
      Senators Collins and King also wrote a letter  in June to the IRS urging the agency to reconsider its decision to close the Lewiston TAC, noting the valuable services that the Center provided in the area. Before it closed, the Lewiston center was one of  five TACs in Maine. The others are located in Augusta, Bangor, Presque Isle, and South Portland. TACs provide free, face-to-face assistance to taxpayers, helping them work through a variety of federal tax issues.
 
The Senators’ letter to the IRS is available HERE, and the full text is below:
 

 
The Honorable John Koskinen
Commissioner of Internal Revenue
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20224
 
Dear Commissioner Koskinen:
 
We write to follow up regarding the September 10th closing of the Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) in Lewiston, Maine.  As we described in our June 15, 2015 letter, the closure of the Lewiston TAC will negatively affect many vulnerable populations in Maine, including elderly and low-income taxpayers, as well as those with limited English proficiency.  While we disagree strongly with the decision to close the TAC, we appreciate your commitment, in your response dated June 30, 2015, “to providing the best customer service to our taxpayers.”  In this spirit, we would like to work with you on ways to mitigate the impact of the Lewiston TAC closing.
 
In your letter, you noted the availability of online resources and services on IRS.gov.  Unfortunately, this is not a viable alternative for many Mainers, particularly seniors in rural areas, who do not have access to computers or high-speed Internet services in their homes.  Furthermore, Lewiston is home to a large immigrant population, with limited English proficiency.  Face-to-face assistance is invaluable and necessary for these groups.
 
You also noted the availability of face-to-face services provided during filing season by Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).  While these sites can provide useful assistance to taxpayers, we question whether they have the bandwidth or the accessibility to accommodate all of the Mainers who would have otherwise used the Lewiston TAC.  We need to ensure that there are workable options so that all people in Maine have access to appropriate forms of taxpayer assistance both during and outside of tax season.  
 
Mainers have faced similar difficulties in the past when the Social Security Administration (SSA) closed its Rumford office.  Similar to TACs, SSA offices provide vital services to seniors.  In talking with constituents following the Rumford closing, we have learned that for issues such as Social Security and taxes, matters that have such a critical impact on people’s lives, many of our constituents are not comfortable seeking help on the phone or online.  Instead, many of them want to talk to someone in person to discuss their unique, individual cases.  SSA worked with us to provide options for residents who were affected by the closing to minimize negative impacts, and the solutions we developed together have been quite effective.  It is our hope that we will be able to work with you in the same constructive manner to mitigate the impact of the closing and ensure that Mainers continue to receive the tax assistance that they need.
 
As such, we urge you to consider having a TAC employee hold at least monthly (and much more often during tax season) office hours and community outreach in a library or other community space in the tri-county area of Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties.  Another option could be for the IRS to work with these community spaces to implement a video conferencing system in rural areas.  These options would serve as a necessary supplement to the already-available online resources, and would help those with challenges, such as lack of Internet or limited English, to receive the face-to-face assistance they need.
 
We would also urge you to expand the number of VITA/TCE sites serving the Lewiston Area and to better publicize their locations and hours.
 
We look forward to working with you and are hopeful that we can find creative solutions to ensure that western Mainers will continue to have access to face-to-face assistance with their federal tax issues.