Don�t Let the Estate Tax Die

Posted December 16, 2009 at 2:39pm

Most people would agree that these are tough times for nonprofit groups. Total charitable giving in 2008 dropped $6.4 billion � the largest decrease on record and the first decline since 1987. State governments, which provide more than 50 percent of funding for health and human service providers, are increasingly late with payments. California even resorted to paying nonprofits using IOUs, which some banks refused to honor. Things aren�t looking up for nonprofits next year. One study predicted that foundation giving will decrease by 8 percent to 13 percent in 2010 because, in part, their assets plummeted by a record 21.9 percent between 2007 and 2008. [IMGCAP(1)] Added to this scenario is the fact that demand for services have shot sky high. Just last week, the New York Times ran a front-page story on food stamps, a program that expands by an eye-popping 20,000 people every day in this country. �In more than 800 counties,� the article says, �it helps feed one in three children … even in Peoria, Ill. � Everytown, USA � nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.� The unemployment rate is in the double digits, and the national deficit is soaring. While stimulus money is helping, only a small fraction of the money has been meted out thus far. At a time when Americans everywhere are struggling to make their mortgage payments and put food on the table, why would Congress allow the estate tax � a strong incentive for charitable giving among our wealthiest and often most generous citizens � to sunset? In 2008, the estate tax helped to generate nearly $22.6 billion in contributions through charitable bequests � 7 percent of total giving to charitable organizations. Add to that another $32.65 billion in contributions from philanthropic foundations, many of which were created through bequests, and it is clear how important this giving incentive is to maintain the programs and services that nonprofits provide to make lives better today and tomorrow. Present law exempts estates worth up to $3.5 million ($7 million for couples) and taxes the remainder at 45 percent. This tax affects a very small minority of estates � fewer than three in 1,000. Those estates large enough to be taxed are expected to owe taxes that, on average, equal less than 20 percent of their value. Our nation cannot afford to lose this important incentive to give back to our communities through charitable contributions and tax revenues. The House of Representatives has taken a step in the right direction by passing legislation (H.R. 4154) that would permanently extend the federal estate tax at the current levels. We strongly urge the Senate to pass identical legislation immediately. Allowing the estate tax to disappear at a time when millions of Americans need help is unconscionable and irresponsible � surely not a message that Senators want to send to their constituents.Diana Aviv is president and CEO of Independent Sector, and the Rev Larry Snyder is president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.