about face
April 2, 2020

Until Wednesday night, the Internal Revenue Service said that Social Security recipients, veterans, low-income citizens, and others who don't typically have to file tax returns will have to do so this year if they want to receive the $1,200 checks Congress authorized to help get the U.S. through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. That policy didn't last long.

After members of Congress pressed the Trump administration to find a way to get payments to seniors who already receive monthly checks from the government and don't file tax returns, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Tuesday night: "Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return need to take no action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account." The law Congress wrote encouraged the IRS, in charge of issuing the one-time checks, to get payment information from other agencies.

Now, Social Security retirement and disability recipients will likely get their check without filling out IRS forms, but the IRS still faces a huge challenge to get checks to the rest of the 18 million to 30 million eligible Americans who don't file tax returns, The Wall Street Journal reports. The IRS "has said it would create simple forms so people who have legitimate reasons for not filing returns can supply information such as bank account details for direct deposits. That information is important because people who need paper checks will need to wait much longer." The IRS is hoping to start sending out payments in about three weeks. Peter Weber

April 24, 2019

The National Security Agency has recommended the White House drop the controversial phone surveillance program that was secretly launched during the George W. Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

The program, which collects metadata on U.S. phone calls and text messages, was started without a court order, and its existence wasn't known until former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked information to journalists about it in 2013. After saying for years that the program is a key tool in finding and thwarting terrorism plots, senior NSA officials now believe its many logistical and legal issues outweigh any intelligence benefits, the Journal reports.

Earlier this year, the NSA had to stop the program due to "frustrations about legal-compliance issues," several people told the Journal. While it is authorized by Congress, the White House ultimately decides whether to press for the program's renewal. If the White House follows the NSA's recommendation, the program's legal authority will expire in December. Catherine Garcia

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