A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
Yes, you are legally required to pay your taxes
CLAIM: There are no laws requiring people to pay their taxes.
THE FACTS: Title 26 of the U.S. Code requires individuals to pay income taxes. Faulty legal arguments claiming there’s no such law have been around for decades but have not been successful in court. With April’s federal income tax deadline approaching, social media users are sharing a short video compiling interviews from a number of purported experts, including a tax lawyer, a tax advisor and a former IRS agent — all of whom claim they discovered through their own research that Americans aren’t obligated to pay income taxes because it isn’t spelled out in law. But federal officials and tax experts dismiss the arguments as frivolous and say the law is clear. Raphael Tulino, a spokesperson for the IRS, directed the AP to a website it maintains to address many of the common claims made by those opposed to following tax laws. “The requirement to pay taxes is not voluntary,” the IRS’ response on the website reads. “Section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code clearly imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts, as determined by the tables set forth in that section.” The IRS also notes that the obligation to pay income taxes is described in section 6151, which requires taxpayers to submit payment with their tax returns. Jonathan Siegel, a professor at George Washington University’s law school agreed with the agency’s assessment. “No, there isn’t even a grain of truth to the theories in the video, nor does it contain any new or surprising arguments,” he wrote in an email, directing the AP to his personal website breaking down income tax myths. Federal tax laws are contained in the Internal Revenue Code, also known as Title 26 of the United States Code, Siegel explains on his website. The U.S. Code is the compilation of all the laws passed by Congress. Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy research group in Washington, said tax protesters continue to misinterpret the IRS’ use of the phrase “voluntary compliance” as meaning paying taxes and filing tax returns isn’t legally required. But the term refers to the notion that individuals are responsible for determining and paying the correct amount of tax and filling out the necessary forms, rather than the government determining the tax for them. Watson also noted that legal arguments against paying taxes have been around for decades but have seen little success in courts. In fact, one of the people featured in a widely circulating version of the social media video is Sherry Jackson, a former IRS employee and tax preparer who was convicted of willfully and intentionally failing to file tax returns.
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.
US has provided money, not just equipment, to Ukraine
CLAIM: The U.S. is not providing cash to Ukraine; it only supports the country through donated military equipment.
THE FACTS: While the U.S. is indeed providing weapons and equipment to Ukraine, it has also provided billions in financial assistance to the country following Russia’s invasion. Former Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, made the inaccurate suggestion recently while taking aim at Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been critical of U.S. aid to Ukraine. “People like MTG in re: #Ukraine. The aid is not pallets of cash. It’s in the form of military equipment, assigned a value, that is donated,” Kinzinger wrote in a tweet. “That equipment is usually older and would be replaced in the next few years anyway, at a cost. I’m sure she doesn’t understand this.” But while the U.S. has indeed sent Bradley vehicles, ammunition, weapons and other equipment to Ukraine during its war with Russia, the support doesn’t stop there. “We’re not providing only military assistance,” Tom Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and Ukraine, told the AP. “We are obviously providing financial assistance — budgetary support — and there’s humanitarian assistance as well.” Between January 2022 and January 2023, the U.S. committed more than $26 billion to Ukraine in financial assistance, according to data compiled by the Ukraine Support Tracker at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German think tank. That’s about a third of the roughly $77 billion in total aid noted by Kiel, including humanitarian and military assistance, pledged by the U.S. government. The numbers represent money promised, not entirely distributed. Another tally from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget places the total amount of aid approved by Congress in 2022 for supporting the Ukrainian government and allies at about $113 billion. That includes about $27 billion in economic support funds, $7.9 billion for international disaster assistance and $6.6 billion to support and relocate refugees. The U.S. Agency for International Development has in releases and a report to Congress outlined how budgetary support to the Ukrainian government has been used. Some of the funding has been spent, for example, on social assistance payments and salaries for health care workers, first responders and educators. It also helps cover pensions and support Ukrainians displaced by the war. Still, the largest bucket of overall U.S. aid committed to Ukraine — more than $46 billion, according to Kiel’s tracker — is military support. Members of Congress have questioned how closely the U.S. is tracking its aid to Ukraine to ensure that it is not subject to fraud or ending up in the wrong hands. The Pentagon’s inspector general told lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing that his office has found no evidence of such corruption or wrongdoing, but cautioned that investigations are only in their early stages. An AP inquiry to Kinzinger through his group, Country First, was not returned.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
WHO ‘pandemic treaty’ draft doesn’t sign over US sovereignty
CLAIM: A legally-binding World Health Organization “pandemic treaty” will give the organization the authority to control U.S. policies during a pandemic, including those on vaccines, lockdowns, school closures and more.
THE FACTS: The voluntary treaty, which is in draft form and still far from ratification, does not overrule any nation’s ability to pass individual pandemic-related policies. As the WHO met Monday to discuss the first draft of the treaty, social media users misrepresented the scope of the document to suggest signing onto it would cede U.S. rights to the international body. “Biden is about to give the China-controlled W.H.O. power to control the United States. This will cover lockdowns, supply chains, surveillance, and ‘false news’,” claimed one Instagram post referring to the treaty draft. But this interpretation of what the treaty would do is incorrect, multiple experts agree. “These claims are utterly false,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor and director of the university’s WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. He’s been involved in the treaty’s draft process. “The United States retains sovereignty to set its own domestic public health policies,” he added. The “zero draft” is designed to protect the world from future pandemics, according to the WHO. The text lays out a vision for building greater equity and effectiveness in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response across the globe through international cooperation. It encourages parties to develop a mechanism to ensure equitable allocation of pandemic-related products such as vaccines and tests while committing to quick and transparent reporting of clinical research and trial results, sharing of information on emerging health threats and recognition of WHO as the coordination authority on international health work. However, it does not overrule any nation’s individual health or domestic policies, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed in a statement to the AP. “It is false to claim that the World Health Organization has now, or will have by virtue of these activities, any authority to direct U.S. health policy or national health emergency response actions,” the agency wrote. “The WHO has no such enforcement mechanisms, and its non-binding recommendations to member states are just that: non-binding.” In fact, a section of the draft labeled “Sovereignty” clearly says that states have “the sovereign right to determine and manage their approach to public health,” “pursuant to their own policies and legislation.” Nowhere in the 30-page document are the words lockdown, closures, contact tracing or online speech mentioned, nor are mentions of specific citizen surveillance systems. Further, while the treaty, if ratified, would be considered a legally-binding document, the WHO has no enforcement power, said Dr. David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in New York contributed this report.
Manufacturers need FDA’s approval to alter COVID-19 vaccines
CLAIM: Up to 49% of the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines can be changed without the approval of the Federal Drug Administration because they are still manufactured under emergency use authorization.
THE FACTS: As part of the emergency use authorization process for vaccines, the FDA stipulates in letters to manufacturers that no changes can be made to the description of the product or manufacturing process without notifying and gaining approval from the FDA. The erroneous claims spread online following an early February episode of an online program hosted by political commentator Rochelle “Silk” Richardson, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who has been critical of vaccines, stated that emergency use authorizations let drug manufacturers change up to half of the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines without approval. Neither Richardson nor Tenpenny responded to emails from the AP. An emergency use authorization, or EUA, allows for the use of unapproved medical products, or unapproved uses of approved medical products, during public health crises. The first two doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are no longer under EUAs for certain age groups, having been approved by the FDA. EUAs still apply to COVID-19 vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. But even if a vaccine is available only under an EUA, manufacturers must receive FDA approval before making changes to the product. “The information circulating on social media that asserts manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines can change up to 49% of the ingredients in their products without FDA approval is completely false,” FDA spokesperson Abby Capobianco wrote in an email to the AP. “No changes can be made to COVID-19 vaccines used under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) without prior evaluation and authorization from FDA.” As stipulated in the U.S. Code’s Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, EUAs come with certain conditions. Vaccine manufacturers are issued a letter of authorization upon receiving an EUA that details the process for making changes to their product. In this case of COVID-19 vaccines, it states: “No changes will be implemented to the description of the product, manufacturing process, facilities, or equipment without notification to and concurrence by the FDA.” Letters containing this language that were issued to Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax for their COVID-19 vaccines are publicly available on the FDA’s website. Aaron Lottes, an associate professor of engineering practice at Purdue University who researches regulatory science, confirmed that these requirements mean that the COVID-19 vaccines, even those available under an EUA, cannot be adjusted at will.
— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.