By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Internal Revenue Service is deploying 400 employees to assist with the federal emergency response to Hurricane Ian, including call center services, search and rescue and security assistance, a U.S. Treasury official said on Friday.
The IRS employees will aid the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), working directly by phone with Americans affected by the storm's destruction to help them access federal and local recovery aid and other emergency services, the official said.
The deployment continues a tradition of using the tax agency as a type of command-and-control center to help Americans access critical services in past disasters from Hurricane Katrina to wildfires in the Pacific Northwest.
Over the next 24 hours, the IRS also will deploy a few dozen members of the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit to provide security for medical teams as well as to assist in life-saving search and rescue operations in the hardest hit disaster areas.
"As they’ve done during previous natural disasters, hundreds of IRS employees deployed to FEMA will provide critical emergency support and connect Hurricane Ian victims with critical aid," Treasury spokesperson Julia Krieger said. "We are proud to support this important response effort.”
A resurgent Hurricane Ian barreled toward South Carolina on Friday, a day after carving a path of destruction across the Florida peninsula, washing away houses, destroying a causeway and stranding thousands along the state's Gulf Coast.
The IRS assistance effort comes just weeks after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis criticized the Biden administration's plans to beef up the agency's enforcement funding as "basically a middle finger to the American public" as he perpetuated false Republican claims that the IRS would hire 87,000 new "agents".
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Bill Berkrot)