Claudia Buck

They make sure IRS listens

Larry Meade, a Sacramento resident, was named in February 2015 to the nationwide Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, a volunteer group of 75 who listen to consumer concerns and make recommendations to the IRS on how to improve its services.
Larry Meade, a Sacramento resident, was named in February 2015 to the nationwide Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, a volunteer group of 75 who listen to consumer concerns and make recommendations to the IRS on how to improve its services. Larry Meade

The IRS wants to chat. At least it wants to hear your suggestions on how it can be more user-friendly to everyday taxpayers.

The agency recently named 29 new members to its nationwide Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, known as TAP. Started in 2002, TAP is an all-volunteer group of individuals who listen to taxpayers’ grumblings and relay those concerns to IRS officials who are empowered to make changes.

“This provides feedback from the community. TAP members listen to taxpayers, who can suggest ways the IRS can improve its customer satisfaction,” said IRS spokesman David Tucker in Seattle. “They’re the voice of the people, the taxpayer.”

And two of them are from Sacramento.

Last year, the IRS had 400 applicants for its 29 openings, many of whom had no prior experience with tax issues, other than filing their return every year.

Dawn Basciano, a state Department of Public Health employee, considers the fact that she has no prior experience to be an advantage. “Not having knowledge as a CPA is a plus. It means I’m approaching this as a lay person.”

She said she was googling the IRS Web page trying to find a local contact concerning her own tax return when she stumbled onto the TAP application. “I found it absolutely amazing that there’s this group that the IRS listens to,” the native Sacramentan said.

Similarly, Larry Meade, an assistant program director for Americorps, said he was motivated to apply for TAP as a way to “demystify a process” that’s confusing to many Americans. “To know that we’re not employees of the IRS makes it more comfortable for people to share ideas,” Meade said. “We are the conduit for that information.”

Among the changes that the IRS attributes to TAP input are helping establish the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, making identity theft information more accessible to taxpayer victims, improving the process for matching a taxpayer’s name with IRS records and improving numerous IRS notices, forms and publications.

To gather more input from taxpayers, Basciano said, she’s begun reaching out to taxpayers through varied means, including a NextDoor app in her Sacramento neighborhood and by attending tax events, such as Rep. Ami Bera’s taxpayer open house on March 25 in the Elk Grove Democrat’s district office.

Both Meade, 36, and Basciano, 43, are committed to volunteer between 200 and 300 hours during their three-year terms. Aside from annual trips for training, they are unpaid for their services.

Why do it?

“This is a way for me to be a voice for people who aren’t tax experts or who can’t afford the fees of tax experts,” said Meade. “Taxes are a fact of life. If we can help make it a little less painful of an experience, it’s an important thing to do.”

Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck at (916) 321-1968 or read her Personal Finance columns at sacbee.com/claudia-buck.

IRS: Where to get help

In its ongoing effort to be more consumer-friendly, the IRS has several programs to assist taxpayers. Here are some:

TAP: The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel is an independent IRS group whose 75 volunteer members listen to taxpayer concerns and recommend improvements in IRS consumer services. Since its inception in 2002, TAP has made more than 885 recommendations based on feedback by taxpayers. Its volunteer members serve – unpaid – for three years and commit for up to 300 hours a year. Call (888) 912-1227 (press 5) or go to www.improveirs.org.

Local members: TAP members in Sacramento can be contacted by email: Dawn Basciano (mbasciano@hotmail.com) or Larry Meade (CaliforniaTAP@gmail.com).

Interested?: For those interested in volunteering, TAP is accepting applications through April 20 for upcoming vacancies. Applicants must be U.S. citizens, current with their federal taxes and pass a FBI criminal background check. The new three-year terms start in December. To apply: improveirs.org.

TAS: For those who can’t resolve an individual or small business tax problem, the IRS has a special Taxpayer Advocate Service, which provides independent people to advocate on a taxpayer’s behalf. Each state has at least one taxpayer advocate. In California, there are five TAS representatives, including one at the IRS Sacramento office, 4330 Watt Ave. For more details, go to www.irs.gov or call (877) 777-4778.

March 25: Taxpayers can get basic questions answered at a free tax help event offered by the district office of Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, at 8950 Cal Center Drive, Building 3, Suite 100, Sacramento, from 2-6 p.m. A TAS staffer will be on hand; TAP member Dawn Basciano also will attend to talk with taxpayers about their concerns. To RSVP or get details, call (916) 635-0505. The event will not help prepare individual tax returns.

Free tax-filing help: For free help in filing a tax return, the IRS has more than 12,000 community locations nationwide where volunteers help seniors and modest-income taxpayers. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is primarily for those with incomes below $53,000; Taxpayer Counseling for Elderly (TCE) program is for seniors. To search by ZIP code for locations, which include schools, churches, libraries and community centers, go to www.irs.gov or call (800) 906-9887.

Source: Internal Revenue Service

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