Stimulus Helps 4-Year-Old Buy New Home

Had Joe Biden's stimulus-boosting, damage-control visit to mid-Michigan this week been made open to the public rather than just a few hand-picked visitors, maybe someone could have asked him why a 4-year-old "taxpayer" received a "first-time homebuyer" tax credit of $8,000.

That's right. A 4-year-old. According to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, this little tyke joined 581 other "taxpayers" under the age of 18 "who claimed almost $4 million" in these credits on their 2008 tax returns. The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 made the first-time homebuyer credit available. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 bolstered the credit to pay out an estimated $4.3 billion in taxpayer money (as determined by the Joint Committee on Taxation).

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The report listed several other egregious oversight lapses by the IRS:

  • In tax year 2008, there were 19,351 electronically filed tax returns on which taxpayers claimed credits totaling over $139 million for homes that had not yet been purchased. The amount of the credits inappropriately claimed totaled $139,555,174. (And that's not including tax returns filed by paper.)
  • Taxpayers who appear not to be first-time homebuyers (based on their prior tax return information) were claiming the credit.
  • First-time homebuyer credits were claimed by taxpayers filing tax returns with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). ITINs are issued regardless of an individual's immigration status. Auditors found that through July 25, 2009, 3,238 taxpayers claimed first-time homebuyer credits totaling over $20.8 million on tax returns filed with ITINs. Thus, it's possible that non-resident aliens, or illegal immigrants, could have received this credit. This is a problem, because, as the report states, "The ARRA specifically denies the First-Time Homebuyer Credit to individuals who are nonresident aliens."
  • 48,580 taxpayers who may not have been aware of the changes to the credit included in the stimulus package did not claim the full amount to which they were entitled. (And, according to auditor: "The IRS does not plan to contact these taxpayers nor to track whether these taxpayers file amended returns. The IRS believes taxpayers are aware of the additional $500 made available in the ARRA and will amend their returns if warranted.")

To be fair, the report is looking for problems so the IRS can make improvements, and does not account for those people who feel there is value in this program. However, the report clearly states in its introduction, "The President of the United States has called on Federal agencies to ensure that recovery funds are used for authorized purposes and that every step is taken to prevent fraud, waste, error, and abuse." By that standard, the IRS has failed the president.

Reason Foundation economist Sam Staley told the Mackinac Center's Tom Gantert at Capitol Confidential Daily that ARRA as a whole is failing. "The poorly designed nature of the stimulus has meant there is a lot of money going into the economy without much added value," he said. "We could be diverting resources away from more productive uses."

Apparently, no one told Vice President Biden. In his Feb. 16 visit to Michigan, he is quoted in a local television report as saying of the stimulus: "It's gonna take us a while to get us out of this ditch, but it's working. It's working."

At least there's a 4-year-old new homeowner somewhere in America who might agree.