a man wearing a suit and tie: IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing.

© Toni L. Sandys-Pool/Getty Images
IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing.

The Internal Revenue Service still has to process an estimated 2.5 million hard copy income tax returns within a pile of unopened mail that stands at 5.3 million pieces.


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That’s according to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, who testified Wednesday on the agency’s efforts to dig out from a mountain of unopened mail that accumulated during coronavirus-related IRS office shutdowns in the spring.

Rettig spoke to lawmakers, who have been getting an earful about the backlog. “We are hearing from our constituents right and left” about the status of returns and refunds, said Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia.

Though there’s still a ways to go, the IRS has come a long way from the spring.

There was a time in the March and April period when the IRS had 23 million pieces of unopened mail, Rettig noted. As of late June, the IRS had 12.3 million pieces of mail to work through.

“I can certainly tell you our people are working really hard,” Rettig said at the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Government Operations within the Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Tax collection staff goes through 1.3 million pieces of mail a week, Rettig said, and it puts a priority on spotting hard copy returns and processing a refund, if one is due.

Rettig didn’t say how many of those still pending returns had refunds coming. But most returns result in a refund. Last year, more than 70% of returns ended with a refund for overpayment of income tax.

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The average refund this tax season was $2,741 as of late July, according to the