ERLC urges Congress to incentivize charitable giving amid COVID-19 scare

Russell Moore
Russell Moore speaks at the 2019 Evangelicals for Life conference at the McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Virginia on Jan. 17, 2019. |

The policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention is calling upon the federal government to boost incentives for charitable giving amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has shaken the globe.

In a Thursday letter to Congressional leaders of both chambers, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore noted the harmful impact the virus was having on the economy and how that, in turn, proves damaging for the nonprofit sector, particularly charities that serve the most vulnerable people in society.

"The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 doubled the standard deduction, which means that most Americans no longer itemize their deductions. Under the federal tax code, people can only claim a deduction for charitable contributions if they itemize their deductions," Moore explained in the letter.

"Since the amount of people who itemize deductions has shrunk, many nonprofits are concerned there would be a drop in donations, because of the lack of incentive to give. The Charitable Deduction is the only deduction for which the taxpayer receives no other material benefit (compared with the mortgage interest deduction or tuition deduction)."

Thus, he said, Southern Baptists object to any tax policy that could chill the ability of citizens to contribute to charity, emphasizing that the federal legislature should extend the Charitable deduction to everyone for two years, not just those who itemize their deductions. Such a two-year universal charitable deduction, he argued, will mitigate the harm done to the economy.

"Our government should welcome the generosity of all citizens — at all levels of income — who desire to help their neighbors through religious associations, educational institutions, and any organization that relieves poverty," he said.

The letter comes as many churches have closed their doors and moved their services strictly online, leaving pews and offering plates empty.

Other Southern Baptist entities have taken steps to ensure their stability in light of the pandemic. The North American Mission Board has implemented cutbacks and budgetary freezes so that its missionaries can remain serving on the field.

“These are not ‘business as usual’ times and we will not be conducting business as usual,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said in a Thursday staff conference call.

“We are all praying that things will bounce back quickly, but we are not taking anything for granted.”

The stock market has plummeted dramatically as the pandemic has unfolded and Congress is presently considering various economic relief packages. Current proposals have hit partisan roadblocks amid disagreement over how relief should be distributed.

Five senators, all Republican, are self-isolating due to exposure to the virus, one of whom, Rand Paul of Kentucky, has tested positive for it.

"The scale of the package — which has grown by over a trillion dollars over the course of several days and by more than $500 billion just during Saturday's negotiations alone," CNN reported Monday, noting that it "underscores the recognition of the urgency brought on by the accelerating spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has all but shuttered the American economy over the last week."

Around the world, countries afflicted by the virus are practicing what is known as "social distancing," avoiding large gatherings of people and some places have effectively been locked down in order to prevent further spread of the disease.

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