Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The Trump administration has assured Americans that federal income tax refunds will be sent out despite the government shutdown that's been going or two weeks.
Only about 12 percent of the IRS staff is working during the shutdown and there will be very few available to help taxpayers with questions.
The agency announced Monday that tax filing season will begin Jan. 28, when Americans get their W-2s from employers.
"We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown," IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in a statement. "I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period."
While that may inconvenience taxpayers and accountants, the administration has reversed course from its predecessors by issuing refunds during a shutdown. The IRS said it's able to issue refunds from a permanent, indefinite appropriation -- it's just hasn't been directed to do so in the past.
"Tax refunds will go out," said Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The IRS will make it as "painless as possible consistent with the law," he added.
Issuing refunds on time would make it easier for President Donald Trump to continue the shutdown without affecting taxpayers waiting for money. Last month, Trump refused to sign a spending bill unless it included more than $5 billion for a wall along the southern border -- part of his firm stance against illegal immigration. Several agencies shut down Dec. 22 after Congress failed to agree on a spending bill to send to Trump.
Other agencies, like the IRS, are operating with a skeleton crew. The Transportation Security Administration's airport screeners are also working temporarily without pay.
"I look forward to seeing a more detailed description of how the agency will carry out these operations, particularly what will be expected of Treasury and IRS personnel," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a statement. "These developments are no substitute for funding the government and fully reopening these agencies."
Sam Berger, a senior OMB official in the Obama administration, said there's no legal justification to reverse past practices by issuing refunds during a shutdown.
"There's no new information here," Berger said. "The only new information we have here is that Donald Trump and the White House are concerned about the political fallout from the impacts of the shutdown."