Nonprofits speak out against changes to laws on charitable donations

Bill Rieth, head of the United Way of Elkhart County, is in Washington D.C. this week to testify before congressional leaders about the importance of tax deductible donations.

Posted on Feb. 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 13, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.

ELKHART — The generosity of Elkhart County residents often overwhelms Bill Rieth, head of the local United Way chapter, so when he heard rumblings about changes to tax deductions for charitable donations, it was enough for him to hop on a plane to Washington D.C., to speak with congressional leaders face to face.

Rieth will share the spotlight Thursday, Feb. 14, with nonprofit groups from around the country to urge the nation’s lawmakers to give careful consideration to any changes they may make regarding tax benefits for contributions. In recent years, congress has discussed capping itemized deductions among other limitations.

“It’s very disconcerting to the nonprofit sector that there have been many discussions about doing away with deductions or heavily modifying charitable donations,” Rieth said before leaving on his trip to the nation’s capital. “Those of us in the nonprofit sector, which is a very large part of our community and across the nation, are very concerned about the impact that would have on communities if that happened.”

Rieth estimated that three-fourths of the United Way’s donors take advantage of itemized tax deductions.

“It’s one of the factors that encourages some people to give,” he said.

Rieth worries that placing restrictions on deductions could affect whether donors choose to give to nonprofit organizations. The impact could be “devastating,” he said, adding that it could ultimately end up costing communities and local governments more money and resources in the long run.

“What people give to us in the community, when they invest with us, we are able to leverage into the millions and millions of dollars of social benefit for our neighbors here in the community from helping them with prescription insurance to kids in school to families breaking free from the cycle of poverty,” Rieth said.

Church Community Services development director Carol Willis said any changes to tax deductible contributions could potentially cut down on donations. But, she added, many people will give to nonprofit groups regardless of a tax benefit because they share the mission of the organizations they support.

“Giving to organizations like ours is not just a tax loophole,” Willis said. “It’s really contributing to the good of the community, helping people make it through a very dark place to hope on the other side. We hope elected officials can see that.”

Willis said Church Community Services had 27,190 food pantry visits in 2012 and helped an average of 2,266 families each month.

Claire Krabill, executive director at the Center for Healing and Hope, said individual donations make up more than a third of the urgent health care clinic’s budget.

“If those donations were to stop, then we would stop existing,” Krabill said. “And if we stopped existing, the people in our community who don’t have money to access health care would go without health care.”

Krabill said the clinic’s three Elkhart County locations had more than 3,300 doctor’s visits in 2012, about 500 more patients than the previous year.

“When I look at all of the other organizations that improve the wellness of people, and there are many social service organizations that do that, without them as well, I think we would see a very, very different community than we see today, and that would be tragic,” Krabill said. “It’s very humbling doing the kind of work that I do in this community. We have a very generous community of people. I think people make a choice to sacrifice something from their own lives to give to organizations like my own and many other excellent nonprofit organizations in our community, and that’s highly appreciated.”

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