Free Cash! (And Don’t Forget Us in November)
If you’re like most working Americans, your mailbox this week held a gift from the IRS in the form of an “Economic Stimulus Payment Notice.” These gems of efficiency are designed to inform taxpayers that they’ll be receiving a one-time payment of up to $600 for individuals — or $1,200 for couples filing jointly — courtesy of their benevolent Washington representatives.
But there’s something curious here, which is this: In order to get these checks, taxpayers have to do — drum-roll here — precisely nothing. That’s right. Just file this year’s return, like you’re required to do anyway, and the extra cash will follow.
“These special letters remind people that they won’t need to do anything more than file a 2007 tax return in order to put the stimulus payment process in motion,” Acting IRS Commissioner Linda Stiff said in a statement.
Which begs the question: Why did we need to be told to do nothing?
A quick glance at the notice gives the answer. “Dear Taxpayer,” the text reads. “We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which provides for economic stimulus payments to be made to over 130 million American households.”
The message is clear: Your elected officials are working for you! And it’s a brilliant move on their part. After all, why inform the electorate just once how much you’re doing for them when you can do it twice for the bargain-basement price of $42 million? (That was the cost to print and mail the 130 million notices — a tab picked up, of course, by the taxpayer recipients.) It’s like a direct-mail advertisement for congressional incumbency.
And while the $42 million figure prompted criticism from a few congressional budget hawks, the outcry was far from overwhelming.
Only one complaint: They forgot to tell us to spend it on shoes and VCRs just as fast as we can. How else will we know that it’s unpatriotic to save?