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More than a million Washingtonians can file taxes for free through new pilot program

By Orion Donovan Smith, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane
Published: March 12, 2024, 4:40pm

WASHINGTON — More than 1 million Washington state taxpayers are eligible to file their federal taxes for free through a new pilot program launching Tuesday, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service announced.

The Direct File program is available to a total of 19 million taxpayers in 12 states, the agencies announced Tuesday, including an estimated 1.1 million people in Washington. It represents a tentative but significant step toward the Biden administration’s goal of eventually offering most Americans a free alternative to the for-profit tax preparation companies that have lobbied for years against such a federal program.

“After weeks of successful testing with thousands of Americans, we’re prepared now to launch this for people in the states that are eligible to use the pilot,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told reporters Monday, explaining that the administration launched the pilot program because “filing taxes is expensive and time-consuming for American taxpayers.”

U.S. taxpayers spend an average of 13 hours and $270 to prepare and file their tax returns, Adeyemo said, adding that just a small fraction of Americans have used the previous free tax filing program.

The new website, which is available in English and Spanish, is available to taxpayers with relatively simple tax situations, excluding some less common forms of income. Individuals who earned more than $125,000 and couples who made more than $200,000 last year and file their taxes together are not eligible for the pilot program.

The other states whose taxpayers are eligible for the pilot are Wyoming, Texas, California, Tennessee, South Dakota, New York, Nevada, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Arizona and Florida.

Because the tax filing season has already begun, Adeyemo said, his department expects only about 100,000 taxpayers to use the Direct File program this year, but he said they are prepared to process far more returns if demand surpasses those expectations. The new program applies only to federal taxes, not state taxes.

The pilot program is funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, a legislative package Democrats passed on a party-line vote in 2022. Natalie Quillian, a White House deputy chief of staff, called the Direct File program “yet another example of how the president is helping working families save time and hard-earned money.”

“It’s part of his overall vision to put the middle class first, improve the day-to-day lives of everyone in this country, and ensure that the biggest corporations and the wealthy no longer get all the breaks,” Quillian said, connecting the program to a central message of Biden’s re-election campaign.

Republicans have railed against the Biden administration’s efforts to provide extra funding to the IRS, which is intended to help the tax agency modernize its infrastructure and crack down on tax evasion by the wealthy and large corporations. The Inflation Reduction Act gave the IRS an extra $80 billion to that end, but Republicans have succeeded in taking away more than $21 billion of that funding through subsequent legislation.

Taxpayers can check their eligibility by going to DirectFile.IRS.gov and following a series of steps to review the income they had in 2023. The website can be accessed by either a smart phone or a computer web browser.

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