The $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill encourages Americans to donate to charity

The move is meant to shore up the nonprofit sector, which is the third-largest industry in the country.

  • By Leslie Albrecht,
  • MarketWatch
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The $2.2 trillion economic rescue package that President Donald Trump signed Friday aims to help nonprofit organizations along with cash-strapped Americans and struggling businesses.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will let taxpayers deduct up to $300 in charitable donations from their taxable income. The rule will apply only to charitable contributions made in 2020. Taxpayers will be able to claim the deductions on their tax forms next year.

The CARES Act temporarily creates something nonprofits have long sought: a “universal charitable deduction,” also known as an “above-the-line” deduction for donations. That means taxpayers can easily claim the deduction on their tax forms without having to go through the extra step of itemizing it. (Other above-the-line deductions include student-loan interest and retirement-plan contributions, for example.)

Nonprofit leaders had wanted the stimulus bill to allow taxpayers to deduct up to $2,000 in charitable contributions, and had wanted taxpayers to be able to claim the deductions on this year’s taxes, but the bill didn’t include those requests. However, the final version of the bill is still welcome news for nonprofits, said Rick Cohen, a spokesman for the National Council of Nonprofits.

“It’s not perfect, but this is going to help,” Cohen told MarketWatch. “Every taxpayer having the ability to get a deduction for donating to charity will make a difference. We know that not everybody is going to be in a position to donate now, but anything that can help people dig a little deeper, if they have that option, is going to help. So we’re grateful.”

Some nonprofits are on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, getting medical supplies delivered to health-care workers, helping isolated seniors and feeding the hungry.

Charities saw a drop in donations in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. The decline was thought to be fueled in part by stock-market volatility, according to the authors of Giving USA, an annual report on charitable giving. But the drop was also related to the 2017 tax law, which doubled the standard deduction, and may have given people less of an incentive to donate to charity to get a tax deduction.

Though the public sometimes assumes nonprofits are mostly run by do-gooder volunteers, the sector represents a significant chunk of the U.S. workforce that’s threatened by the dire economic consequences of the coronavirus, like others, Cohen said.

The nonprofit sector employs 12.3 million people and is the third-largest industry in the country, Cohen said, employing more people than manufacturing, transportation and construction.

“When a nonprofit closes down, it’s not just the play you’re not going to be able to see at the community theater or the animal you’re not going to be able to adopt at the animal shelter,” Cohen said. “It’s more people out of work.”

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