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Pay Me What You Owe Me

Like many people, I filed my federal and state income taxes a little over a week ago, taking full advantage of the over one month extension that the Internal Revenue Service allowed to file and pay. I hadn’t planned on needing the extension, but between the hundreds of hours I’ve logged participating in online meetings for work, taking part in online work trainings, and the handling of the routine pile up of requests for reports, drafting and sometimes delivering opening remarks for educational webinars, and on and on, I looked up and found myself mid May.

As my grandmother would say,” they didn’t even say ‘dog kiss my foot’ ”.

For 2019, I hired a professional to prepare my taxes. I had never hired a professional tax preparer, but you know how sometimes you feel like you want to just let somebody who is actually trained and skilled to do the drudgery that you’re used to doing and perhaps they can do it even better. She did a wonderful job, but afterwards I ended up feeling right raped. I’ve never owed that much in federal taxes in my life. It is what it is.

You really can’t argue with, debate, or negotiate with Uncle Sam at this point. Just sign the forms and write the check. Sam comes to do a stare down with you every year until he gets what he wants. This year I decided to use one of those home tax preparation software packages and prepare my own. After spending hours collecting my documents, downloading 2020 records from various websites, I plugged in my details and watched as the numbers flickered and flashed on the top of the tax filing webpage like a Vegas slot machine, displaying how much I would owe Uncle Sam. After fiddling around from page to page, claiming credits, looking for relief, the numbers stopped spinning. Ain’t this some stuff? How the hell did I owe the government a dime for 2020? I’ve never seemed to manage to properly file so that at the end of the year we are even Steven, but this was ridiculous.

I was looking for some kind of compensation for converting my spare bedroom into a full working office. I conducted the government’s business from an office in my home, using my electricity – pumping air and heat all day long, my wifi, purchasing office supplies, including reams of paper, staples, laser printer toner, notebooks, pens, used my phone all paid for with my money. Before 2017 it would have been normal for someone working from home to claim home office deductions along with other unreimbursed expenses. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act, signed into law at the end of 2017 under the Trump administration, got rid of the unreimbursed business expense deduction along with the home office deduction. Again, Ain’t this some stuff!

Yes, I am grateful that I could work from home. Yes, I am grateful that for a year I didn’t have to contend with traffic that could back up and leave me spending two hours commuting home or paying outlandish express lane tolls. Yes, I am grateful to have a place to work, didn’t get laid off, or have my hours or wages cut. Yes, I am grateful to have had a place to socially and physically distance myself from the public and yes, I am eternally thankful to God and grateful that because of all of this, I avoided contracting COVID-19. But for nine months in 2020 and so far in 2021 I am working from home. The electricity is still pumping, Wifi is still supporting every Microsoft Teams call, Zoom meeting, visits on SharePoint, All Hands meetings and more. Still printing out documents using my printer and loads of toner and even more that is required in my home and on my dime for Uncle Sam.

Don’t get me wrong, I pay my way. I’m not a tax resister – a tax protester – or claiming sovereign citizenship or some such. I tithe, support public radio and television, pay my dues to membership organizations to which I belong, give to charities, but the fact that the federal government, my long time employer, didn’t offer those of us who work for the American people and worked from home, a tax credit, a tax-free stipend, or a tax-free flat inconvenience payment is more than a bit baffling. As my grandmother would say,” they didn’t even say ‘dog kiss my foot’ ”.

This is the same red white and blue top hat -wearing, Sam, that will fire you for playing fast and loose with your time and attendance. Well, with my office in my home, I am always on time and working late and on weekends. According to a report by the Los Angeles staffing firm, Robert half, nearly 70 percent of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends, and 45 percent say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before. We have proven that we can be productive and even more so than when we are in our offices. Yea, that would be me.

This is the same Sam that frowns upon and will bring wrath for handling your personal business in the workplace space. Well here I am, conducting his business, America’s business, in my second bedroom. Hmm… and with my money. I guess I’m supposed to love Sam so much that I’m supposed to just do anything for the honor and the privilege.

Federal employees are often given short shrift, disrespected, assumed to be over-paid slackers not carrying out any vital tasks, who over the years have had our salaries frozen, suppressed, questioned by federal legislators always looking for a cheap way to score points with uninformed constituents, but so many of us choose this life of public service over corporate compensation because it is a calling. During 2020 and even today, did anybody miss a Social Security check? Did anybody take advantage of tele-health visits with federally qualified health centers (FQHC)? Did anybody drive up and get a COVID test at a FQHC or more recently receive a COVID vaccine from a FQHC? Did anyone miss out on their SNAP allowance? How do you think stimulus checks were cut and distributed? Once COVID was identified and understood better, who kept the national parks and federal recreation spaces open? For every federal employee that was deemed essential and had to show up some place for work, there were a whole host of folks supporting the same mission, but from their homes. The country was not operating on automatic pilot – Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Interior, Defense, Homeland Security, and more.

I have to admit, every time I think about it, I do feel some kinda way about the radio silence that surrounds the non-compensation of hundreds of thousands of federal employees for shouldering the work of the federal government from our home spaces and paying to make that happen from our wallets – and doing it quite well, I might add. I am sure I am not the only one.

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