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A screenshot shows Bill Rieth, head of Elkhart County’s United Way chapter, as he testifies on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, before congressional leaders on tax deductions for charitable contributions. (Photo Supplied) (AP)

Bill Rieth, head of Elkhart County’s United Way chapter, stands with U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski near the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Rieth met with congressional leaders Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, and Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, to talk to them about tax deductions for charitable contributions. (Photo Supplied) (AP)
Local United Way chief takes stance on tax deductions in D.C.

Posted on Feb. 15, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 15, 2013 at 4:09 p.m.

ELKHART — Bill Rieth, head of Elkhart County’s United Way chapter, is back home after a trip to the nation’s capital, where he urged lawmakers to continue their support of tax deductions for charitable donations.

Rieth testified at a hearing Thursday, Feb. 14, in Washington, D.C. He was joined by other nonprofit groups and fellow United Way representatives from around the country. Another panel presented opposing views, arguing that the deductions weaken revenues and that the government should not favor the nonprofit sector by providing an incentive.

Rieth highlighted some of the programs that the United Way supports including assistance for prescription medications and educational initiatives to help elementary school students boost their reading skills.

“I’m fearful — I’ve got to be honest — very fearful that if the charitable deduction is eliminated, we’re going to lose these programs, these programs that are helping take people out of poverty, these programs that are helping students succeed, these programs that are helping people do better in the health area,” Rieth told members of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. “If that would happen, it would be devastating for my community.”

Friends back home in Elkhart County cheered Rieth on from afar, tuning in to a livestream of the hearing broadcast online and sending him messages of support on Facebook. Rieth said he felt as though the hearing was successful and that national lawmakers seemed receptive.

Rieth told congressional leaders that the people of Elkhart County have been generous over the years despite fighting a tough battle to recover from a severely slumped economy.

“Folks give over $74 million a year to local charities, of which we receive approximately $2 million,” he said.

While Rieth cannot pinpoint who takes advantage of charitable deductions, he believes it’s a large number of the United Way’s donors.

“For example, when we go out to raise funds to invest in our community, it doesn’t matter whether I’m on the factory floor, whether I’m in the front office, whether I’m talking to a blue collar worker or a white collar worker, every single time, I’m always asked, ‘Is this tax deductible,’ to which I can reply ‘yes,’ so I believe this is a highly motivational force in people’s lives,” Rieth said.

While in Washington, D.C., Rieth also met with U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana. Both lawmakers, Rieth said, were supportive of his mission to protect tax deductions related to contributions to nonprofit organizations.

Coats supports the charitable deduction and believes it should be maintained as part of any tax reform, according to the senator’s press secretary, Matt Lahr.

“He believes that charities like the United Way can do things more efficiently than the federal government because they understand local needs better than someone in Washington,” Lahr said.