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Both of these programs are modernized versions of the IRS's surprisingly outdated computer systems.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

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.