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Disaster relief underscores need for CARE Act, Reccord tells Senate subcommittee

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Offering charitable tax benefits encourages Americans to give, rewards their generosity and assists organizations like the North American Mission Board on the front lines of disasters like Hurricane Katrina, NAMB President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Sept. 13.

Testifying with other charitable organizations in favor of the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, Reccord told senators about the extraordinary efforts of thousands of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to help people in hurricane-ravaged regions of the United States.

“Last week, I saw firsthand stunning devastation in Covington, La. Many people who came to our feeding station there have lost literally everything — even hope,” Reccord said. “Since Katrina struck, our volunteers have cooked and served 2.2 million hot meals for hurricane victims. They are also providing hot showers, laundry units, cleanup and recovery services and chainsaw crews to clear away fallen trees.”

The CARE Act provides incentives for charitable giving by preventing discrimination against faith-based charities providing social services.

The bill — sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.) — increases charitable tax deductions for two-thirds of taxpayers who file the short form; encourages food donations by farmers, restaurants and corporations; allows tax-free charitable contributions from IRA accounts; and expands the use of Individual Development Accounts among low-income working families to purchase a home, further their education or start a business.

Other organizations testifying before the Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy included The Salvation Army, the Brookings Institute and the Brother’s Brother Foundation.

Reccord said organizations like the North American Mission Board provide essential services to help people following a disaster like Katrina and would benefit from provisions of the act.

“Providing a tax break here, or lifting a cap there, is wise public policy when the net result helps people to help people,” Reccord said. “Allowing millions of non-itemizers the opportunity to deduct their charitable gifts is the right thing to do. We applaud the bill’s provision allowing corporate deductions for charitable donations to be increased.”

Following committee testimony, Reccord said senators from both sides of the political aisle made a point of expressing thanks for what Southern Baptists are doing in response to Hurricane Katrina.

“They were familiar with our work — even before Katrina — and they are aware of the critical role our volunteers have been playing,” said Reccord, who said he was struck by the spirit of unity at the hearing. “There was a high degree of civility and camaraderie.”

Addressing the committee and guests prior to testimony, Santorum said the U.S. government should support and encourage the role charitable organizations play in meeting the needs of less fortunate Americans and those caught in crisis.

“I believe strongly that the philanthropic, generous nature of Americans is a big part of what makes America a great nation,” Santorum said. “We have seen organizations such as America’s Second Harvest and the Florida Boulevard Baptist Church [in Baton Rouge, La.] feed the hungry…. [W]ithin 48 hours of Katrina, the nation’s fraternal benefit societies were feeding, housing and providing supplies, clothes, toiletries, cash and beds to those in need in shelters both in Houston and New Orleans.”

Santorum said many of the 1.2 million-plus charities in the United States are small and struggle to make the best use of their limited resources. In recent years, he said, the IRS has significantly increased its enforcement of nonprofits and the CARE Act is designed to insure incentives benefiting the work of non-profits remain in place.

The CARE Act has been endorsed by 1,600 charitable organizations throughout the United States.

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  • Tim Yarbrough