CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A Cedar Rapids woman and her family have been waiting for a $3,250 tax refund for 8 months now, and with late bills piling up, she doesn't know how much longer she can hold out.
The problem is that during a government shutdown, there's no way for her to contact the Internal Revenue Service to find out where her check is.
The troubles began for Autumn Alicea when she filed for her tax return back in February. A while later, she discovered someone in Florida had stolen her identity. Alicea said it took the IRS several weeks to investigate and verify that she was the real Autumn Alicea. "So they said it would take about 8 weeks to process my return now that they knew the one from Iowa was indeed the valid return, and the one from Florida was not."
In June the IRS told her her refund was not processed and to call back in a month. A month later, as the family started to feel the financial pinch, still no progress.
"I was counting on this money in March to pay bills that we didn't normally have," Alicea explained.
Add to that car payments, rent, and medical bills, some of them for her children: a 16 year-old with lifelong intestinal problems, an 8 year-old in cancer remission, and a 5 year-old born 10 weeks premature with lingering medical problems.
Then, after waiting weeks for an IRS advocate to help, the agency said it had no record of her. "I was in tears at that point. I was so desperate and helpless." When the I-R-S finally contacted her, it said it would send the check in early August. So, she started a payment plan for her mounting debt.
"Wne week went by, the second week went by," Alicea recalls. But the check never arrived.
"It had been returned to the IRS via the post office, because the post office cited that my address was undeliverable. It didn't exist," Alicea said. "I wanted to say a lot of bad words, but I didn't."
She contacted Senator Charles Grassley's office and got another IRS advocate, who said the check was in the mail and to call by October 1st if she didn't get it. That was the same day the partial government shutdown went into effect.
"I just feel like we're being held hostage," Alicea said about the shutdown.
Since then, the IRS phone lines and website have been silent. She gets answering machines in whatever office she calls, and a website that tells her that her refund is still on its way.
"It still says my refund is being processed," she said, showing us the message. Alicea has way of knowing if that's true, however, so the only thing left to do is wait.
"I don't want to hear another excuse. I just want a result. And I just cannot believe that all of these organizations can't fix this problem. It's a tax refund," Alicea said.