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Senator's office helps secure vital tax credit for Southern Nevada mental health provider

Las Vegas Sun - 8/17/2023

Aug. 17—The CEO of Southern Nevada's oldest and largest mental health provider is crediting the office of U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., with helping cut through bureaucratic red tape to land a $1.1 million federal tax credit that provided a lifeline.

Las Vegas-based Bridge Counseling Associates was on the brink of closing its busiest location earlier this year due to lingering financial shortcomings related to the coronavirus pandemic, CEO David Robeck said. Pandemic-mandated closures that began in March 2020 caused Bridge to cease in-person therapy and group sessions, which are utilized by most of its nearly 4,000 clients, Robeck said. With only telehealth appointments bringing in revenue, Bridge continued to pay its 80 employees despite the dip in revenue. By May 2022, it needed more than $1 million to keep paying its staff.

"We were the last to close and (though) we did provide telehealth, we were only closed to clients," Robeck said. "All of the staff came into work and, in fact, we continued to hire because there was not only a need, but it was greater because all you heard on TV and on radio anywhere was how horrible COVID was."

In June, Bridge was finally granted a $1.1 million Employee Retention Credit (ERC) by the IRS to cover wages paid between March 13, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021, after initially applying for the program in May 2022.

It came just as Robeck mulled closing the group's 1640 Alta Drive location near downtown Las Vegas, less than a mile from the Las Vegas Medical District and within proximity of the valley's most at-risk residents.

That would have left just its other location in east Las Vegas, at 4221 McLeod Drive.

Robeck, who before being named CEO in 2014 spent 25 years in commercial banking, was relieved to have finally gotten the funding, and he said it would not have been possible without help from Cortez Masto.

"It wasn't something we could sit on for long," Robeck said, adding that a third-party firm that initially helped the counseling group apply for the credit estimated they should have been approved for the credit by "no later" than October 2022.

"The tax credit came at a good time, but I will tell you: We worked very hard to make sure we were doing everything right so that we can get paid," Robeck continued.

The IRS told Robeck in June 2022 that Bridge's application was still under review. By August 2022, after reaching out multiple times, the IRS told him they couldn't find the application, Robeck said. By September 2022, Robeck reached out to Cortez Masto's team after being told by the IRS the application was still nowhere to be found.

That started a monthslong push by the senator to press the IRS for updates with Bridge's claim, Cortez Masto's office told the Sun. After reviewing Bridge's case, Cortez Masto subsequently urged the IRS "dozens of times" to not only find but expedite and process the application.

"They got on the IRS and started working with them while we tried to work directly with the IRS as well," Robeck said. "But finally, we got word through the senator's office that they had somebody assigned to our case because it was considered a more challenging case."

By March of this year, Robeck still hadn't heard back from the IRS about the tax credit and had told Cortez Masto's office plans were in place to shut down the Alta office.

As a last-ditch effort, Bridge submitted another application to the IRS. Meantime, Cortez Masto pushed to have the case transferred to the Taxpayers Advocate Office, which her office said would assure the case would at least be heard.

As May came, Robeck still hadn't heard back about the credit. Plans to close the Alta Drive office started looking more like a reality.

"They (the IRS) would just say we're working on it, and that was the only thing they would say," Robeck said. "And that wasn't very helpful.

Fortunes finally changed for Bridge in early June, when it was notified that its claim had been approved, and the tax credit would be dispersed in the coming weeks. That relief arrived June 30.

"Mental health care is essential for so many Nevadans, and it was unacceptable for the IRS to drag its feet on this critical tax relief for an organization serving thousands of Nevadans in Las Vegas," Cortez Masto said in a statement. "I am pleased Bridge Counseling will be able to keep its doors open and continue to provide these essential services to our communities."

Bridge, which opened in 1971, operates two of Nevada's eight Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers, or CCBHCs, and are the only two that serve Clark County, home to more than 70% of the state's population.

A CCBHC is a federally certified model that is required to serve anyone who requests mental health or substance abuse care — regardless of their ability to pay, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

When contacted by the Sun, an IRS spokesman said the agency did not discuss individual cases.

But late last month, IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel said at a roundtable discussion in Atlanta that the agency had "successfully" cleared a backlog of valid ERC claims. Now, the IRS is placing resources and instituting additional procedures to deal with potential ERC fraud, according to a release.

"The further we get from the pandemic, we believe the percentage of legitimate claims coming in is declining," Werfel told attendees at the Atlanta forum. "Instead, we continue to see more and more questionable claims coming in following the onslaught of misleading marketing from promoters pushing businesses to apply (for the credit). To address this, the IRS continues to intensify our compliance work in this area."

The IRS notes the tax credit was enacted by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in March 2020 to help businesses beleaguered by the pandemic and added that "aggressive marketing" from third parties has overshadowed the program. Businesses can file a claim for the credit until April 15, 2025.

Since the credit's inception, more than 2.5 million claims have been filed, and the agency said the glut and complexity of amended tax returns that accompany the credit contributed to long processing times.

"The IRS has made substantial progress on these claims this year," the agency said in its release, noting 99% of claims were approximately 3 months old as of mid-July. "The additional effort has been critical in helping legitimate businesses receive the money they can claim legally under the law."

For businesses going through a similar experience redeeming the tax credit, Robeck recommends reaching out to a federal lawmaker, whether that be Cortez Masto, U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, or any of Nevada's four members of the U.S. House.

"I will continue to make sure our government works for Nevadans," Cortez Masto said. "No matter what."


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