The government agency that collects our money is pretty broke. That's a problem.

"Several of our systems are not currently operating," begins an alarming statement from the IRS posted Feb. 3, 2016.

A hardware malfunction, which affected several computer systems at the Internal Revenue Service, apparently caused the tax agency to stop being able to accept electronically filed tax returns while "a number of taxpayer and tax practitioner tools" also became unavailable.



The IRS building. Where charitable donations can finally start doing you some good. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The IRS hardware meltdown doesn't exactly come at a good time, either. Mailboxes around the country are currently filling up with W2s, and Americans are making their plans to (postpone/ignore/avoid/procrastinate and then finally break down and begrudgingly) file their taxes.

The IRS is still investigating the exact scope and scale of the outage, saying in part:

"At this time, the IRS does not anticipate major refund disruptions; we continue to expect that 9 out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refunds within 21 days."

Side note: If you haven't gotten your official green tax-filing visor yet, be sure to pick one up. Photo via iStock.

Two of the services most affected by outages were the IRS's e-filing system, which lets you file your taxes electronically, and a program called Where's My Refund, which is a passive-aggressively named program that tracks your filed tax refund.

Both of these programs are modernized versions of the IRS's surprisingly outdated computer systems.

The IRS's tech capabilities are actually pretty alarming. Some of it (at least, as recently as 2007) is still being run on antiquated magnetic tape systems originating in the 1960s that are about as "cutting edge" as lead paint. I wouldn't be surprised if the inside of the IRS building still largely looks like it did when they filmed this introductory video in 1966:


"I have no idea what these buttons do." Video from U.S. National Archives/YouTube.

But unfortunately, reliance on old systems as well as the failure of new ones are only symptoms of a larger problem.

The IRS has been steadily defunded over the last several years; down about $2 billion from 2010 to 2014. That'd be a huge problem for any government agency, but for the IRS, it's particularly devastating.

"Vital federal services [have] suffered as funding has declined," reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The IRS faces cost pressures common to most programs, such as a growing workload and the effects of inflation. But it also faces unique demands, such as the growing problem of identity theft and the tax compliance issues associated with offshore accounts."

Darrell Issa gives the international sign for "budget cuts" during a hearing about the IRS targeting scandal. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The economy has been rapidly changing while operations at the IRS have struggled even to remain stagnant.

That problem could get worse, too. Much of the GOP wants to continue slashing the IRS's budget and presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants to abolish the IRS altogether.

The IRS is also dramatically understaffed. In 2014 (the year the IRS had to brace for Obamacare-related tax credits and code changes), nearly half of all customer calls were answered, and long lines were commonplace at filing centers across the country.

The staffing problem is even worse when you consider that the average age of an IRS contracting officer is 46, meaning that the vast majority of the IRS can soon retire.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is well aware of the age problem in his agency. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

John Koskinen, Commissioner at the Internal Revenue Service addressed this problem in a statement in March, saying in part:

"I have advised our senior leadership that this is the last year that we will deal with budget constraints by freezing or severely limiting new hires into the agency. We have interesting and exciting career opportunities to offer to young people beginning their careers, and we need to encourage more of them to join the agency."

Selling a bureaucratic government agency to young people as an exciting career opportunity might be tough, though. The IRS has such a poor reputation that convincing anyone to work there is a challenge. Another government organization, the FBI, can't even get young people to stop smoking weed long enough to pass the necessary drug test to work for them, and they have those cool windbreakers. The IRS can't even offer that.

Not to mention the fact that no one under 45 knows how to use this thing:

Is it ... does it ... does it play music?

Long story short: Don't put off filing your taxes for too long this year.

The IRS needs a lot more help, but it won't be coming to save the day before your taxes are due this season. The IRS is busy getting their e-files back up to speed and still needs time to run your hastily scribbled information through a monolithic bookshelf while workers push a series of flashing buttons and (just guessing here) probably turn two keys at the exact same time to reveal a large red lever which, when pulled, spits your tax return out of a dot matrix printer while a siren wails in the background. Or something like that.

It's basically a Soviet-era Bond film in there. So get your taxes done now, before it's too late.

True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

You may never have heard of President and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI) Linda Goler Blount, but for over 25 years, she's been doing the arduous and yet vital work of assuring that Black women achieve health equity and reproductive justice.

Sometimes working behind the scenes securing funding, and other times in front of the cameras or on Capitol Hill fighting what can feel like a Sisyphean feat to move her organization forward in its mission. Blount is resolute in her battle against two of the greatest risk factors to the health of Black women are racism and gender discrimination.

UP: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Black women today -- vaccine hesitancy, preventative health, maternal mortality, diet, stress… etc?

LB: Stress is the number one health issue for Black women. Obesity-related syndromes such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease have their roots in stress -- and microaggressions trigger stress. We know there's a causal relationship between stress and weight. Black women have about 15% more cortisol in their bloodstream than white women. It changes their metabolism. If you give Black women and white women the same low-fat diet, Black women will lose weight more slowly and if both groups eat a high-fat diet, Black women will gain weight more quickly. We can see this in the DNA level. So, we focus our programs on asking women how they feel about being a Black woman in this environment at this moment. Because if we don't understand that and more importantly, if providers, policymakers, and corporate leaders don't understand that, then we're not going to make the kind of progress we need to improve health outcomes for Black women. And equity is a long way off.


Keep Reading Show less
True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!