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Messenger: Department of Revenue slow to admit mistake, until Missouri official intervenes
Tony's Take

Messenger: Department of Revenue slow to admit mistake, until Missouri official intervenes

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Dr. Joseph Cusumano pays his taxes early.

Most of them anyway.

So it was in April when the retired radiologist sent the Missouri Department of Revenue two checks. One was a prepayment of 2021 taxes; one was the remainder due on his 2020 taxes. He had pre-paid estimates the April before, but still owed a bit more.

Four months later, he received a letter from the Department of Revenue. It said he hadn’t paid his 2020 taxes, and that he would owe penalties and interest. Cusumano called his bank to see what was going on. They traced the two checks and determined that the Department of Revenue transposed an account number on one of them, and so the check never was cashed.

Cusumano wrote a new check for his 2020 taxes.

In October, he got a new letter. Now, the state was telling him, he owed $127 in penalties and interest.

Cusumano emailed to let the state know it was their error that caused the problem. He called, and a state worker from the Department of Revenue told him that if he didn’t pay the penalty, the state could put a lien on his house. It wasn’t a lot of money, and though he was frustrated, Cusumano just wrote the check.

Then his wife, Mary Ann Cook, had an idea. Cook and Cusumano, who live in Clayton, go to church at The Church of St. Michael and St. George. So does their state representative, Ian Mackey. Cook suggested that her husband call the state representative to see if he could help straighten out the situation.

Lately, Mackey has been dealing with the Department of Revenue a lot to help constituents deal with notices from the state that they owed money that was allegedly overpaid in unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. Because of confusion, technological failures, user errors and changing rules, some people who received additional pandemic unemployment aid from the state or federal government received more than they should have. Earlier this year, Missouri created a panic when it sent notices to people trying to collect those alleged overpayments. A lot of those people don’t have the resources that Cusumano does to simply write a check and deal with the consequences later.

In fact, that’s why Cusumano called to tell me this story.

“There must be other Missouri taxpayers who are going to experience an irrational experience like this and not know what to do,” he said. “I didn’t mind that they made a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes. When I pointed out their mistake to them and they just dug their heels in, then I knew something was wrong.”

Maybe it’s the fact that Missouri has the lowest paid workers in the country and struggles to keep good employees. Perhaps it’s the ongoing failure with technology, where nearly every state department — including revenue — has outdated technology that can’t do its job.

Mackey, by the way, did his job. He forwarded the email Cusumano received from his bank explaining clearly that the Department of Revenue made a mistake when it tried to deposit the April payment for Cusumano’s taxes that was sent on time.

The Department of Revenue’s legislative liaison made sure a supervisor in the department saw the email. Soon, the department called Cusumano, admitted its error and told him the state would be refunding the penalties and interest he paid. Similarly, because of pressure from lawmakers, the Department or Revenue is offering waivers for Missourians who might have received unemployment overpayments. It’s progress getting the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn.

“All we did was forward his email and a few hours later it is fixed,” Mackey said of Cusumano. “It shouldn’t take a state representative to intervene.”

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