Charitable Giving: From The Heart Or Tax Incentives?

Opinion

   on December 03 2012 12:27 PM

More American's used food stamps to buy their Thanksgiving dinner than any time in our history, according to US News & World Report. 

The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, has 42.2 million beneficiaries, and cost the United States government $72 billion last year. This means that 1 in 7 U.S. residents receive SNAP benefits.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, three out of four SNAP households include a child, a person aged 60 or older, or a disabled person. Typically, households with the very low income of about $8,800 a year are the receivers of SNAP. The average monthly SNAP benefit per household was $287, or $4.30 per person a day. 

This is a 70 percent increase in SNAP benefits compared to the 26 million people who received benefits in 2007. If we need one measurement of how crushing this recession has been, this is it.

So here we are in the last month of 2012 with our government facing another crisis -- commonly now referred to as the fiscal cliff -- and wouldn't you know? Charitable giving is once again in the forefront of cuts. 

The charitable deduction is the ninth largest tax expenditure in the federal budget, CNN reported. In 2014, the amount of revenue the government would forgo from those claiming charitable deductions is estimated to reach $52 billion. 

At present, the wealthiest Americans can write off as charitable deductions 35 percent of their total contributions; President Barack Obama wants to move that down to 28 percent.

There are also significant differences in how much we give, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported. In Utah and Mississippi, households average 7 percent of their income to charity, while in Massachusetts and three other New England states, giving is under 3 percent. 

Middle class Americans give a far bigger share of their discretionary income, with households earning $50,000-$75,000, giving an average of 7.6 percent of their income to charity compared to the 4.2 percent of people making over $100,000. 

Religion has a big influence on giving patterns. Two of the top nine states giving the most as a percent of income are Utah and Idaho, who have a high number of Mormon residents with a tradition of tithing 10 percent of their income to the church. All of the other seven top states are in the Bible belt.

Although not all nonprofit income is tied to tax incentives, the fear among nonprofits is that much of it is tied to what Washington will be deciding in the next few weeks. 

Using Arizona as an example state, 28 percent of Arizonans claimed federal tax deductions for nonprofit organizations that totaled $2.73 billion, according to The Arizona Republic . The charitable deduction is especially popular as you climb the income scale, where 12 percent of taxpayers earning less than $50,000 claimed this deduction, 81 percent of those making more than $100,000 claimed the charitable deduction.

Who is going to help those in need if a change our government decreases the incentive many Americans have to give? 

In states where the population has a tendency to give anyway, those in need may be propped up, but in states where tax incentives drive giving, those in needs may be in real trouble. 

America has always relied on The Salvation Army or The Gospel Rescue Missions to take care of those less fortunate. At DollarDays, on our Facebook page, we are giving away 1,000 Marc Gold socks to nonprofit organizations in need this December, so please nominate one you think deserves the help.

Giving must come from the heart, not because you are saving some taxes. In actuality, though, movements by the government to guide how we live and spend our money is a major influence on how nonprofits get funding. 

This recession has taken a deeper toll than anyone expected. When over 42 million Americans have to rely on our government for food stamps and most nonprofits must also rely on our government to help influence donations coming their way, we cannot absorb any more hits to our charity safety net. 

The lame duck session is now going on in Washington. We cannot afford lame duck results.

Marc Joseph is the author of "The Secrets of Retailing, Or: How to Beat Wal-Mart!" and the CEO/President and founder of DollarDays International Inc.

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