The GOP Tax Law Screwed Survivors' Benefits for Military Families

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta (AP)

In 2017, the GOP passed its sweeping tax reform law, which did all of the things that you would expect a GOP tax reform bill to do: took a chunk out of people’s returns, gave massive breaks to healthcare companies, and in general spread more money around to all of the awful people who already have all of it. Turns out, it also had some other consequences—it massively increased taxes on some of the survivor benefits the government pays out to surviving members of military families who have lost a loved one in the service.

Per CNN:

That’s due to a change in how the IRS handles survivor benefits paid out to children, which are now treated like stocks or other inheritances — driving up taxes by thousands of dollars.

“People are absolutely shocked that this happened, and they weren’t planning for it,” Ashlynne Haycock, deputy director of policy for the military families nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), told CNN in an interview. “It has been a severe hardship for surviving families.”

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The increased tax bills, which were first reported by Task & Purpose, caught many families completely unprepared; military widow Theresa Jones told Task & Purpose that in past years, she’s paid around $1,150 per year in taxes on her sons’ benefits; this year, it more than quadrupled to $5,400.

But even before the bump, the fact that families had to pay taxes on money the government was giving them in recompense for sending one of their loved ones to their death was pretty galling. Per Task & Purpose:

Military widows and widowers who put their benefits in their child’s name saw a significant spike in their taxes this year. To make matters worse, Jones, along with three other military widows who spoke with Task & Purpose, said they were not aware how much their taxes would increase and were unable to budget or otherwise prepare for the hike in cost.

“It was a very hard pill to swallow, that they’re even taxed; that they have to give money back in general, as kids,” said Jones, who provided Task & Purpose with copies of her tax documents for 2018 and 2017. “I’ve been sitting here for four days trying to figure out why it’s so much more.”

CNN reports that two bills in the House and Senate, which are both co-sponsored by a majority of members in both chambers, would eliminate the tax. Ashlynne Haycock of the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors told CNN the tax could also be scrapped as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

Regarding the huge tax increase this year, Republican House Ways and Means committee communications director Rob Damschen told CNN that it was an “unintended consequence” of the tax bill, and said that the House GOP is “committed to finding a solution that is both fair and retroactive” to the families.

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This is, of course, horseshit. The Republican Party could have averted all of this pain and so much more, but it decided to slam through a disastrous bill so rushed it included handwritten provisions at the last possible minute. It is entirely their fault that after already giving up so much, these families are still getting screwed.

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About the author

Jack Crosbie

Contributing Writer, Splinter