When we turned our calendars to welcome in 2020 we looked forward to the challenging and exciting year of the most important presidential election of our lifetime. Little did we know what was in store and how it would affect our tax reform advocacy. Although we continued to advocate for tax reform at every opportunity, a matter of more immediate urgency arose as we all faced the personal and economic upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you will see in the review below we spent the better part of 2020 helping the global community of Americans abroad gain access to desperately needed pandemic relief funds. That work goes on as our expectation is that there will be further pandemic aid needed in 2021.
We look forward to the exciting change that will arrive with the inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and we look forward to a less chaotic, more productive, more progressive 2021.
Read on for a review of our work in 2020.
In preparation for the upcoming Global Primary we published two brochures for distribution at GP Voting Centers: one to profile the work of the Democrats Abroad Taxation Task Force and one to present our key reform recommendation, Residency Based Taxation (RBT).
We also published a grassroots campaign of outreach for constituents of Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA08), our RBT champion in the US. House of Representatives, to get his constituents to encourage him to continue the push for this reform critical to Americans abroad.
On 27 March 2020 Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the President signed it into law. We published a summary of the CARES Act benefits available to eligible Americans regardless of where they live in the world.
On March 28 Democrats Abroad wrote to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Rettig outlining issues we could anticipate Americans abroad would encounter as they attempt to access the aid and making recommendations to address them.
In response to hundreds of emails from our members interested in the CARES Act aid we published a live FAQ document and updated it on a daily basis through the chaotic weeks during which the IRS was implementing the aid programs.
On April 3 Rep Titus (D-NV01) along with 53 others sponsored H.R.6438 a bill to reverse the cruel and discriminatory CARES Act provision that denies CARES Act aid to the families of U.S. citizens who file jointly with non-citizen spouses without a SS number. Clearly this provision hurt many Americans abroad with non-US spouses. H.R. 6438 never reached the floor of the House for a vote. Thankfully this provision was reversed in the December 2020 pandemic aid package.
In early April the IRS published a new online tool for non-filers to register with the IRS to receive CARES Act aid. We provided this briefing about the IRS Non-Filers: Enter Information Here tool.
Shortly thereafter the IRS published an online registration tool for all eligible pandemic aid recipients to provide their bank account details and to track their aid payment We published this briefing about the Get My Payment tool.
In mid April, with complaint emails from Americans abroad about the pandemic aid continuing to pour in, Democrats Abroad sent a second letter to Secretary Mnuchin, IRS commissioner Rettig and others asking for a range of changes to improve accessibility of CARES Act aid for Americans abroad as well as address concerns about the difficulty that some Federal loan borrowers will have requesting forbearance of student loans.
At our behest Rep Beyer wrote to the IRS on behalf of Americans abroad endorsing our recommended changes to the IRS online CARES Act tool in order to make it more accessible to Americans Abroad.
To address confusion about CARES Act aid Democrats Abroad held a pandemic aid webinar for Americans abroad and later published a video of the webinar and the slides presented so that those unable to attend could access the advice provided.
With system outages and glitches blocking access for Americans abroad, we wrote to Secretary Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig yet again asking for urgent fixes to the Non-Filers and Get My Payment aid registration/tracking systems.
On April 23, Rep Dina Titus (D-NV01), another committed supporter of Americans abroad, lead on a letter from Congress to Secy Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig, backing up the need for the IRS to urgently address the fixes needed so that American abroad could access the CARES Act aid. Thanks also to Reps Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) for their support.
With aid delivery processes now crystallised, Democrats Abroad published a one-stop "Guide to CARES Act aid for Individuals”.
In mid May Democrats Abroad writes once again to Treasury Sec. Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Rettig to report problems experienced by Americans abroad accessing CARES Act aid and making recommendations for improvement.
Democrats Abroad has some good news for those awaiting pandemic aid in this briefing about a CARES Act helpline.
In June Democrats Abroad continued to publish information for Americans abroad to track and chase their pandemic aid payments.
Leading up to the Democratic National Convention the Democratic Party launched a ‘Digital Engagement Campaign’ inviting input into the party’s 2020 Platform. Democrats Abroad seized upon this opportunity for more voices to be heard and encouraged members to submit videos with platform recommendations, especially a demand to include Residency Based Taxation in the 2020 Democratic Party platform.
In August Democrats Abroad launched the "Send your Voice from Abroad with your Vote From Abroad" grassroots campaign, encouraging supporters of Residency Based Taxation to contact all the candidates running to represent them in the U.S. Congress and ask for their support for Residency Based Taxation. This is the campaign launch and materials.
On September 1, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows received a letter requesting that he ask President Trump to implement a range of reforms via Executive Order to provide regulatory relief for Americans Abroad.
Democrats Abroad published a statement on the request with regrets that the statement did not specify for inclusion in the Executive Order the simplification or elimination of tax filing for Americans abroad, the elimination of punitive or double taxation of income from foreign sources, or relief for small business owners abroad from the punitive taxes in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
In October Democrats Abroad launched a research project to document the experience of Americans abroad accessing the aid programs in the CARES Act. The aim of the research was to form recommendations for improving the efficiency of the delivery of any future package of pandemic aid. When the research survey was closed on 31 October there were 4,362 responses.
In November Democrats Abroad published the findings of our research into the experience of Americans abroad in accessing CARES Act aid, including recommendations for any future aid package. A summary of the research report and a datapack of the survey responses were also published.
The research findings and recommendations were sent to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, IRS Commissioner Rettig and Congressional leaders.
In the first week of December we had a series of meetings with our friends in Congress to share our research findings and recommendations for improvements for improving the delivery of the next package of pandemic aid.
Reps Titus, Maloney, Raskin and Beyer have helped us push our recommendations to Treasury through the Congressional Liaison to the IRS and also via a late December letter to Sec Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig endorsing our recommendations.
We will need to keep pressure on lawmakers and regulators to persuade them to address our key recommendation for improving the delivery pandemic aid to Americans abroad, which is to give us the option of having stimulus payments made by direct deposit into our local (non-U.S.) bank accounts.
Although the IRS has said the Get My Payment online tool for providing bank account details to the IRS for the purpose of making Round 2 pandemic stimulus payments will be re-opened in early January, we have received no assurances that the data input screens will have been fully adapted to accommodate the non-U.S. phone numbers, mailing addresses and bank accounts of Americans abroad. We will keep pushing.
In early December we also had a meeting with members of the Biden-Harris Treasury Dept Transition Team to present the serious personal and financial problems Americans abroad experience due to U.S. taxation. We provided a short briefing note for that meeting and then were invited to prepare a more extensive paper to be included in the binder the Transition Team will submit to Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen and the incoming Department of Treasury leadership team. We have requested, amongst other things, a communications channel to Treasury and the IRS for organisations representing Americans abroad which we believe will greatly improve our ability to promote our reform recommendations. We look forward to reporting back on this initiative in 2021.
Many thanks for your support in 2020.
Please send comments or questions to [email protected].
Democrats Abroad Taxation Task Force