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IRS should get off the backs of poor rural Americans

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

Which taxpayers do you think the IRS should take a closer look at more often: wealthy, urban taxpayers or poor, rural taxpayers?

Since you’re reading an editorial, you’ve probably already figured out where we’re going with that question: Turns out, according to research by ProPublica, that poor, rural taxpayers are much more likely to be the target of audits than people living in more urban areas.

That’s due largely to the fact the IRS targets taxpayers for audits who claim the earned income tax credit, “a response to pressure from congressional Republicans to root out incorrect payments of the credit,” according to ProPublica.

The nationwide examination breaks down results by county in every state, listing how many taxpayers out of every 1,000 were audited between 2012 and 2015. The county where the IRS spent the most resources trying to catch tax evaders? Humphreys County, Mississippi, “a rural county in the Mississippi Delta known for its catfish farms.”

The audit rate in Humphreys County was a whopping 51 percent higher than in Loudoun County, Virginia, which has the highest median income in the country at $130,000, according to ProPublica.

Boyle County residents make a median income of around $40,000, and they are audited just slightly higher than the national average  — 7.8 out of every 1,000 tax filers got audited. Nationwide, 7.7 out of every 1,000 are audited.

Travel north to Lexington, where the median income is more than $53,000, and the rate is below average — 7.4 per 1,000. In Louisville, which also has a median income above $50,000, it’s 7.6 per 1,000.

What about Boyle’s southern, more rural neighbors? Residents in Lincoln and Casey counties get audited substantially more — 8.3 and 8.9 audits per 1,000, respectively.

This IRS policy isn’t catching big fish who would otherwise walk away with huge chunks of cash. In fact, its ignoring the lakes where big fish live and trying instead to catch a handful of guppies in a creek.

At best, it’s preventing a small number of relatively low-income people from keeping a few thousand bucks in their pocket that should go to Uncle Sam. At worst, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money on wild goose chases or even thrusting all the unpleasantness and stress of an audit on someone who doesn’t deserve it and is already struggling to make ends meet.

This is a callous policy that could only have been developed by Washington politicians who don’t know or have forgotten what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. It doesn’t hurt their fellow wealthy friends — in fact it makes them less likely to be audited — so they don’t seem to care that it disproportionately makes life worse for rural America.

The current practice of over-investigating the little guys discriminates against rural areas. It should be ended.