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Furloughed IRS Workers Must Return To Work Ahead Of Tax Season

Susan Walsh
The exterior of the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington.

Alex Jay Berman is stressed out. The Philadelphia father hasn't a gotten a paycheck in a month. In two weeks, the balance of his savings account will hit zero.

"My son has a water bottle full of change," said Berman. "Am I going to borrow the coins from my son to live, to get by? That's what I'm looking at."

Berman is one of 46,000 furloughed Internal Revenue Service workers who were ordered back to work for the tax-filing season, which starts Jan. 28.

Those employees, who account for more than half of the IRS' workforce, have the option of returning Thursday, Friday or Tuesday, after the federal holiday.

Either way, everyone will be clocking in for free, though they've been promised that will change once the government shutdown, now in its fourth week, ends.

To Berman, who's worked for the IRS for more than two decades, the recall is nothing more than a political stunt.

"This is basically to assuage the vast number of Americans that the shutdown doesn't affect them," said Berman.

The National Treasury Employees Union, of which he is a member, is equally upset.

"The promise of back pay does not cover the power bill right now or put gas in the gas tank today. Only when the government reopens and employees are fully compensated can they begin to heal from the damage this shutdown has caused them and their families," said Tony Reardon, the union president, in a statement on the organization's website.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which announced the recall, said employees are needed to "protect government property, which includes tax revenue, and maintain the integrity of the federal tax collection process."

And the Trump administration has vowed that the government shutdown will not delay tax refund checks.

Jennifer Romberger, a certified public accountant in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, relies on IRS employees to process her client's returns -- and those refund checks -- said the worker recall will not affect her right now because most of of her clients haven't filed their taxes yet.

"Catch me two months from now and maybe I will be defeated and wishing they had gone back to work sooner. But, honestly, it just doesn't affect my mindset at this point," said Romberger.

With President Donald Trump still feuding with Congress over funding for a southern border wall, it's unclear when the shutdown will end.

Find this story and more from our partners, WHYY.