Wednesday, April 02, 2008

And The 2008 April Fool's Award Goes To....

You know I really didn't see too many good April Fool's jokes or stunts out there yesterday. Maybe its just me and I live in tiny bubble (called New York City) but honestly I didn't hear of much that was noteworthy. Then I heard someone talking earlier today about something the IRS is doing now. It is common knowledge that the IRS is giving rebates due to Bush/Congress' stimulus package, but according to this (who will remain nameless) woman, NPR's "Marketplace" told a larger story.

From NPR's Marketplace:

Kai Ryssdal: You might have gotten a little note from the Internal Revenue Service recently telling you about your forthcoming rebate check. It's part of the economic stimulus package Congress and the White House agreed on a couple of months ago. Most taxpayers will get anywhere from $600 to $1,200 back from Uncle Sam.

The hope is that we'll spend it to buy things, which would be what the government wants to give the economy a kick in the pants. The worry is that many have said they'll pay down debts instead. So, with some taxpayers, the IRS isn't taking any chances.

Marketplace's Rico Gagliano reports.

Rico Gagliano: Hello!

Stacey Atkinson: Hi!

Gordon Atkinson: Hey! How ya doin'!

Gagliano: Gordon and Stacey Atkinson live in Phoenix Arizona, in a home they bought with a subprime loan.

Gordon: Come on in.

Like many subprimers, they're having a hard time paying the mortgage. So, eager for their $1,200 rebate check, they filed their taxes in February.

Stacey: And I was expecting -- or we were expecting -- a rebate check shortly thereafter.

It eventually arrived. Sort of.

Gordon: We get this thing in the mail. It's addressed from the IRS. I had no idea what it was.

Stacey: So, we open up the package, and, well actually, I can show you what was inside of it. Do you want to come see it?

Rico: Yeah, sure.

Stacey: It's an air conditioner.

Gordon: A General Electric "Zoneline" air conditioner.

After they got over their shock, the Atkinsons called the IRS for an explanation. So did I.

Beverly Jaworsky: My name is Beverly Jaworsky. My title is Debt-To-Purchase Ratio Assessor.

Armed with a huge IRS database, Beverly and others like her have spent the last few months identifying taxpayers who'd be most likely to use their rebate checks to pay off debt.

Jaworsky: Someone who may be listing their house on the market as a short sale, for instance. Or students with student loans. Or screenwriters.

Then those taxpayers get special rebates.

Jaworsky: Instead of receiving that check that they were going to receive, we send it to them in the form of retail goods, in relative value to what their check would have been.

The piece goes on to quote Robert Reich to talk about how this is a bad idea, and how would the IRS know who needed what. He said people might want a toaster over an air conditioner. You really don't know what is on people's wish lists honestly.

So this person was outraged at the story and since she is a sociologist to add to it. She told multiple friends about the story and was apparently still aggravated about it today. I agreed with her sentiment, but then I remembered yesterday was April 1st and I looked for the transcript of the show. Guess what the last line of the story was?

RYSSDAL: Oh, c'mon, check your calendars, everybody.

April Fool's day had at least one person fooled.

Kudos to "Marketplace."