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Alabama senator to the IRS: Stop picking on the South

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On Monday, ProPublica published a map showing where IRS audits are most concentrated. The South stood out.

The reason, we explained, was because of an intense focus at the IRS on auditing recipients of the earned income tax credit. The EITC is one of the country’s largest antipoverty programs, in the form of a tax refund for low-income workers, especially those with children. The typical EITC recipient earns less than $20,000 per year.

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In practice, the IRS’ emphasis on EITC recipients means states with concentrations of low-income workers see the highest audit rates. One of those states is Alabama. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., wasn’t pleased.

“To take such a large portion of limited IRS resources and to focus them so intensely on rural communities in Alabama and the Southeast makes little fiscal sense,” Jones wrote in a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “Moreover, the practice appears to be blatantly discriminatory.” (An IRS spokesperson previously told ProPublica that audit subjects are chose without regard to race or where the taxpayer lives.)

The map, which stemmed from a study by Kim M. Bloomquist, formerly a senior economist in the IRS’ research office, showed that the highest audit rates were to be found in rural, mostly African American counties in the South. Among states, Alabama had the fifth highest audit rate in the country, behind Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida.

“In an effort to focus its resources and ensure fair treatment of all taxpayers, I believe the IRS should undertake a full and thorough review of the policies and practices that led to such a disparate geographic impact of its annual audits,” Jones wrote. He ended his letter with a number of questions about IRS audit policies.

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As we explained in December, Republicans in Congress have pressured the IRS since the 1990s to prevent payments of the credit to people who aren’t eligible for it. Meanwhile, critics, some within the IRS, such as Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, have long criticized the focus on EITC audits as disproportionate, especially since IRS studies show that far more revenue is lost through cheating by those higher up the income scale. Furthermore, in recent years, budget cuts have hampered the IRS’ ability to pursue wealthy taxpayers, while audits of EITC recipients, which are largely automated, have been slower to decline. The result is an increasingly unequal mix of audits.

Lawmakers will have an opportunity to ask Rettig about the IRS’ audit choices in a hearing next Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee.

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“There are two tax codes in America, and there are also two enforcement regimes,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the committee’s ranking member. “It takes significant resources to go after wealthy tax cheats with savvy lawyers and accountants, and the IRS simply doesn’t have those resources after years of Republican attacks. Ensuring wealthy taxpayers pay what they owe shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and this will be a focus with Commissioner Rettig.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

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… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

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Lawmaker Rashida Tlaib calls for boycott of Bill Maher’s ‘Real Time’ over Israel comments

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Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., suggested a boycott against HBO host Bill Maher after he denounced the international movement to boycott Israel as a "bullshit purity test by people who want to appear woke but actually slept through history class."

This article first appeared on Salon.

"Maybe folks should boycott his show," Tlaib wrote in a tweet on Saturday. "I am tired of folks discrediting a form of speech that is centered on equality and freedom. This is exactly how they tried to discredit & stop the boycott to stand up against the apartheid in S. Africa. It didn't work then and it won't now."

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WATCH: ‘Hero’ walks into middle of Proud Boys protest and says ‘f*ck you’ to each of them

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A man became a hero to the internet over the weekend after he was captured on video saying "f*ck you" to members of a group of conservative protesters known as Proud Boys.

In a video that appeared to be from Saturday's protests in Portland, a man can be seen walking into a group of right-wing demonstrators.

"F*ck you," the man says, pointing at an apparent Proud Boys member.

"F*ck you," the man says again as he points at another member of the group.

The man then repeats the process over and over, pointing out a member of the Proud Boys each time. He did make an exception for a dog, which he described as "cool."

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GOPer Joni Ernst booed and peppered with questions about guns at tense Iowa town hall

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In videos uploaded to Twitter, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) received a chorus of boos and shouts from a town hall crowd after she tried to blame mass shootings on mental health issues, with one person shouting, "Do something!"

According to a report from Iowa Starting Line, the embattled Iowa Senator whose approval numbers have dropped, due in part to President Donald Trump, was pressed by one local teacher about changing gun laws so she can get back to the job she was hired for.

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