Senate Approves Coronavirus Bill Without Charitable Cap Increase

WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. Senate approved without opposition late Wednesday (March 25) a coronavirus relief bill estimated to cost $2 trillion, but did not include an amendment designed to encourage charitable giving.

Senators voted 96-0 for the legislation after several days of negotiations among the White House and Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber. The immense economic package is intended to provide help to a broad swath of American society — including workers, small businesses, state and local governments, hospitals and education — while social-distancing and shelter-in-place efforts are in effect.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the legislation Friday (March 27).

The Senate-approved measure, however, failed to incorporate a significant increase to the cap on the charitable giving deduction. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and hundreds of nonprofit organizations had called for raising the limit.

“A vibrant charitable sector is vital for this tumultuous time,” ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “Our churches and nonprofits serve those who are most vulnerable and overlooked by the broader culture, and our policymakers should keep that in mind.

“At the same time, the federal government is most effective when its actions bring out the best in local communities and individual Americans. As more legislative steps are envisioned, the ERLC will be there to advocate for policies that propel American generosity towards those who are already serving communities in need.”

O.S. Hawkins — president of GuideStone Financial Resources, the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity — said in written remarks, “GuideStone supports the government’s efforts to address the substantial economic impact of the COVID pandemic on the American economy. We are grateful that churches, ministries, pastors and church staff are eligible to participate in the [coronavirus] stimulus package approved by the Senate and now heading to the House for consideration.”

The Small Business Administration loan guarantees in the legislation are available to nonprofits, including churches.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a Southern Baptist, introduced an amendment March 22 to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in an attempt to boost the cap this year from $300 above the standard deduction to one-third of the standard deduction for Americans who do not itemize for tax purposes. Lankford’s proposal would have meant the limit would increase to $4,000 for a person filing individually and $8,000 for a married couple filing jointly. The ERLC and more than 700 nonprofits endorsed Lankford’s proposal.

Before endorsing Lankford’s amendment, the ERLC had urged Senate and House leaders in a March 19 letter from Moore to extend the charitable deduction to all taxpayers for two years. After this Universal Charitable Deduction was not included in the Senate version, the ERLC offered its support to Lankford’s amendment upon its introduction.

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Source: Baptist Press