For weeks, Republicans have been telling voters across the country that President Joe Biden and Democrats will send an army of 87,000 IRS agents to audit ordinary Americans to dip into their pockets to pay for unfunded liberal programs like student loan forgiveness. Ahead of the midterm elections, GOP candidates are running campaign ads touting and promising to end the IRS if Republicans regain control of Congress. Where did this idea come from and is there any truth to it? Here’s what you need to know about whether the tax collectors are coming.

Where did the Republicans get that number?

The 87,000 figure comes from a Treasury Department report released in May 2021 that estimated a proposal to give the IRS $80 billion in additional funding. That amount has since been approved thanks to the Climate, Health and Taxation Act passed earlier this year.

The analysis showed that in 10 years The IRS could add nearly 87,000 full-time employees. But nowhere does it say how many employees will be auditors versus other types of IRS employees, such as customer service personnel who can help taxpayers process their payments and get reimbursed. The figure also shows the gross number of employees that could potentially be hired, not the total net number, as the agency faces cuts over the next decade.

What are the Republicans saying about these IRS agents?

It is different. On social media, some say IRS agents will be armed. Others, like Washington Republican Senate candidate Tiffany Smiley, are capitalizing on the huge numbers. “It’s crazy that Joe Biden and Patty Murray would send a full stadium or IRS agents to force families making less than $75,000 to pay for someone’s legal education,” she says in one ad.

North Carolina Senate candidate Ted Budd complains in another ad that Mr. Biden “spent recklessly” and “now he wants 87,000 more IRS agents to cover his money.” Meanwhile, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is promising to eliminate 87,000 agents in the first Republican bill if they win a majority.

Are the statements true?

No, the claims are outdated and misleading. Although the IRS will receive $80 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August, the IRS has yet to release a plan for that money. In August, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent a memo to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig ordering the agency to develop a plan for how the funding would be used over the next decade within six months. Yellen also had another directive for the agency regarding new staff and which Americans should not see any more audits.

“Any additional resources — including any new staff or auditors hired — should not be used to increase the proportion of small businesses or households below the $400,000 threshold that are audited relative to historical levels,” she wrote in the letter. In a separate letter to the Senate, Rettig, a Trump appointee, also said the resources were “in no way related to increased audit scrutiny of small businesses or middle-income Americans.”

The IRS offer of the money is due in February.

So what is the IRS spending on if not 87,000 agents?

Of the $80 billion in funding, nearly $46 billion has been earmarked for increased enforcement as the IRS seeks to close the so-called “tax gap,” which currently stands at roughly $600 billion annually and $7.5 trillion over the next ten years. In addition to enforcement, the money is also used to improve services and technology for taxpayers.

“Resources to modernize the IRS will be used to improve service to taxpayers – from answering phone calls to improving IT systems – and to fight high-income and corporate taxes that cost the American people hundreds of billions of dollars each year,” a Treasury official said.

For decades, the IRS has faced mounting challenges that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Some of the technology used by the agency dates back to the 1960s. In both reports and congressional testimony, taxpayer advocate Erin Collins described IRS employees having to manually enter information line by line from paper returns. In numerous warnings to Congress, she called the return of the paper “kryptonite.” Its June semiannual report said the agency had a backlog of 21.3 million unprocessed paper tax returns at the end of May. However, this number has decreased. The IRS recently said there were 6.2 million unprocessed individual returns as of Sept. 23, including 4.6 million paper returns to be reviewed and processed.

The IRS is also struggling with customer service workloads. Its workforce remains at 1970s levels despite population growth and additional responsibilities. Last tax filing season, the agency was only able to answer about 10% of calls — a problem that frustrated both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

What will those hired by the IRS do?

Filling vacant positions, mainly. The IRS is on the verge of losing more than 50,000 employees to retirement over the next five years.

“Most of the new hires will replace the standard rate of staff departures over the next few years,” a Treasury official said, adding that the new staff would be hired “to improve service to taxpayers and experienced auditors who can take over corporate and senior auditors. end tax evasion without raising audit rates above historical rates for people making less than $400,000 each year.”

As for law enforcement, over the past decade the IRS has lost 40% of the sophisticated revenue agents needed to pursue high-profile defaulters. The agency is working with the same number of auditors involved in complex work as during World War II.

Will IRS agents be armed?

Only a small part of tax service employees are armed. The Criminal Investigation Division is a small division of the agency with fewer than 2,000 employees – less than 3% of the total workforce. And in this unit, only special agents are armed, so there are even fewer of them than the 2,000 employees who work there. The unit deals with issues such as drugs and money laundering. He recently joined the team task force tracking the assets of Russian oligarchs.