Tax benefit in bill will help religious charities mitigate coronavirus crisis

Written by William C. Duncan

March 31, 2020

Churches and faith-based nonprofits are often some of the first to step up in a time of crisis. Much like doctors, police officers, firefighters and other first responders, people and organizations motivated by their religious beliefs are often looking to help resolve difficult situations that the rest of us simply want to get away from. This is part of the reason that the First Amendment and the law offer special protections for churches and personal expressions of faith.

For example, Taoist nunneries and temples in China have made large donations of money and medical equipment to help those seeking to limit the spread of the pandemic in that country. Closer to home, Park City Christian Center serves nearly 900 people whose food needs continue, and Catholic Community Services of Utah continues to feed and shelter homeless Utahns, despite the fact that some in these groups are likely at higher risk for infection from the coronavirus.

Unsurprisingly, then, the coronavirus aid bill recently passed by Congress and signed by President Trump includes some important provisions that reflect the importance of religious and other private charitable endeavors at times of great need.

Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute explains the relevant proposals in the current version of the legislation:

The key provisions would extend a tax benefit for charitable giving to all taxpayers, not just the few relatively affluent households that itemize their deductions.

 

The numbers could be significant. Draft legislation allows for a $300 deduction for all taxpayers. A proposed amendment, backed by an impressive range of senators, including Oklahoma Republican James Lankford and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, would make an expanded charitable deduction of $4,000 for single taxpayers and $8,000 for married couples available even to those who don’t otherwise itemize.

As Husock explains, “Both are crucial additions to the tax code and recognize that, when America is in crisis, civil society steps in to provide assistance, whether to those who need food deliveries but are not Amazon Prime members or those who need basic shelter. Meals on Wheels, local churches, synagogues, and mosques are all aspects of America’s civil society.”

As Boyd Matheson explained in the Deseret News this weekend:

Government is going to be overrun with demand for social services in the days ahead. Where will those in need turn? They would usually look to civil society, but, sadly, the coronavirus has also propelled nonprofits, religious, civic and volunteer organizations into unstable and uncharted territory. If the virus cripples charitable giving and decimates nonprofits, it would blow a gaping hole in our already shredded social fabric. It could undermine forever the foundational character of our country.

So it makes good sense to provide incentives for charitable giving so that religious and other organizations at the forefront of pandemic relief will be able to get the support critical to their work. For all of the monetary resources at their disposal, government agencies and officials simply do not have the nimbleness or the relationships to quickly get relief to those in need in a time of crisis. That’s where churches and faith-based nonprofits provide an irreplaceable service within our social safety net.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, churches and religious charities will continue to play a vital role in mitigating the negative economic and public health impacts of the current pandemic. And that is something all of us – religious or secular – can be grateful for.

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