By Eileen Connolly-Kessler
Naples David Biemesderfer
Federal lawmakers are heading into an intense period of political and policy debate regarding the budget, deficit reduction and tax reform. There is growing and urgent concern that elected officials are still seriously considering unraveling a 100-year-old American tradition that encourages charitable giving and benefits millions of people.
In jeopardy is the provision that allows taxpayers to deduct donations to charities.
It’s important to recognize that donors at all income levels itemize their deductions — not just the wealthy. In fact, half of the taxpayers in Florida who use the charitable deduction earn less than $75,000 annually, and one-third earn less than $50,000. Add up the donations Floridians made to charities in 2011 and it comes to an incredible $13.98 billion.
Collier County is fortunate to be home to so many people who carry on the unique American tradition of charitable giving. Residents of Collier County give more than $390 million to charity each year, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, placing it among the top 2 percent of all counties in the country. In addition, charitable foundations in Collier County give more than $49.3 million annually, according to Florida Philanthropic Network.
While elected officials in Washington express support for the value and impact of charitable giving, proposals on the table pose a real threat to incentives that encourage this kind of generosity. Several reputable studies have shown a link between the charitable deduction and the level of charitable giving. A recent study by the Urban Institute revealed that caps on the charitable deduction would result inasmuch as a 10 percent drop in donations.
In a recent public opinion poll conducted by United Way Worldwide, nearly two-thirds of Americans said they would have to reduce their contributions if the charitable deduction were to be reduced or eliminated.
We can’t let that happen. Charities and philanthropy play a vital role in Collier County. The needs of seniors, children, the environment, education, health care and the arts rely on the assistance of charitable donations and grants. Here are just a few examples of the power of giving in our county:
Through charitable donations, the Community Foundation of Collier County funded an integral Naples Area Senior Needs Assessment that established the need for senior centers in the county. Plans are well under way for the first senior center to open this fall at 5025 Castello Dr. in Naples, sponsored by Jewish Family & Community Services. Other areas under consideration for development include Golden Gate, East Naples and North Naples. These new centers will dramatically improve the quality of life for many older adults in Collier County.
Did you know that Florida ranks third in the country for the number of human trafficking cases? The statistics are shocking and it’s scary to learn trafficking is taking place in our own backyards. In an effort to thwart this prolific crime, the Community Foundation of Collier County granted moneys to the Women’s Fund of Southwest Florida to support the opening of the Esperanza Anti-Slavery Resource Center and will be hosting guest speaker Connie Rose at the annual Power of the Purse luncheon and fundraiser on Dec. 4. Rose is a survivor of sexual abuse and exploitation and serves to bring awareness to this horrific trend infiltrating our community. Philanthropy is helping to mobilize resources to stop this heinous crime.
One of the largest Master Planned Artificial Reef Projects in the Western Hemisphere is underway off the Gulf waters of Collier County and it would not be possible without the help of charitable donations. This exciting project will be a game changer for the ecology — and economy — of Collier County and is expected to boost local tourism and economic development by some $35 million.
Many of our residents have been hit hard by the economic recession. We have heard many stories about how people’s lives have been turned upside down after facing the loss of a job or a home. Charities are working hard to help them with basic needs and they are reporting an increase in demand for services.
In fact, a recent survey from the Nonprofit Finance Fund reveals that for the first time in the survey’s five-year history, more than half of the charities say they could not meet demands for assistance last year, and expect the number to increase this year. One in four had less than 30 days’ cash on hand.
Tough decisions must be made to tackle the nation’s fiscal challenges without hurting our communities. As budgets shrink at every level of government, charitable contributions become more imperative to fueling local solutions to help change conditions, provide hope, and to build upon Collier County’s quality of life for all residents. It seems unwise for Washington to consider changes as part of tax reform that would hurt the nonprofit community and the invaluable services it provides.
Now more than ever, we should be working together to find ways to encourage more giving, not less.