Joint op-ed: At-risk tax incentives are important to Oregon charities, nonprofits

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Op-ed originally published on December 10th, 2015 in The Oregonian

By Susannah Morgan (CEO of Oregon Food Bank), Jim White (Executive Director of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon), Jeff Clarke (CEO of Philanthropy Northwest), and Kelley Beamer (Executive Director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts)

As with many states, Oregon has a long, proud tradition of supporting a wide range of charities and nonprofits with causes ranging from serving our neighbors to conserving our natural heritage. Right now, Congress is discussing legislation that would stimulate and encourage giving in our communities. If our elected officials act quickly and wisely, this legislation would benefit thousands of Oregonians.

Trey, Tammie and Cormac Hagen walking on their land, protected through a conservation easement donated to the McKenzie River Trust.

Trey, Tammie and Cormac Hagen walking on their land, protected through a conservation easement donated to the McKenzie River Trust.

Congress is considering making permanent three key tax incentives that promote, encourage and reward charitable giving. These historic measures motivate small businesses to donate food, landowners to conserve land and individuals to make charitable donations through their retirement accounts.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed these provisions back in February. However, the Senate failed to keep up the momentum, and they are now wrapped up with end-of-year negotiations around “tax extenders.” A broad, national coalition of charities and nonprofits are working to see that this opportunity to promote giving is not neglected in this final rush of year’s end.

Here’s what is on the line for Oregon:

Volunteers at a food bank

Volunteers at a food bank

The food donation tax deduction provisions would allow small businesses to take the same tax deduction as large companies when donating food to food banks. It would also expand the tax incentive to include donations from farmers. For Oregon Food Bank, this incentive is critical, as they work with farmers, producers, processors and other agricultural donors to provide nutritious food to people experiencing hunger.

The enhanced incentive for land conservation is directly responsible for conserving more than 2 million acres of America’s irreplaceable natural heritage. Oregon’s nonprofit land trusts, working with farm, forest and ranch owners, have protected more than 70,000 acres using conservation easements, which keep land in private hands and stewarded by those who know it best. The easement tax incentive is often a critical factor that allows landowners to protect their land legacy for future generations.

The IRA charitable rollover allows individuals over 70 and a half to donate up to $100,000 from their individual retirement accounts directly to nonprofits without penalty. Taxpayers across all income levels have used this incentive to contribute to community foundations, social service programs, religious organizations, arts and culture institutions, schools and health care providers.

As ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, can play a critical role in passing these charitable tax incentives. Fortunately, Sen. Wyden is a longtime champion of a strong nonprofit sector and is taking a leadership role on this issue in Congress. However, until Congress renews and makes permanent these tax provisions, charitable donations from farmers, ranchers, small business owners and retirees will be slowed.

Our organizations collectively work to address Oregon’s greatest needs, from its land to its people. We cannot overstate the impact increases in voluntary giving would have on priorities such as education, conservation of open spaces and hunger relief, helping to create a sustainable future for all Oregonians. With congressional action to make these incentives permanent, Oregonians and our charitable organizations can do even more to serve our communities.