How Congress Can Unleash Americans’ Generosity to Tackle COVID-19


Americans
are extraordinarily generous, especially during times of crisis. One of the
best ways government can tackle the coronavirus crisis is to let Americans give
more of their own money directly to charities. This capitalizes on the fact
that humanitarianism is going
local
to be more effective.

Travel
restrictions and shutdowns worldwide are creating secondary victims of the COVID-19
pandemic. While intense focus is on governments to come to the rescue, little
platoons of charities quickly got on the ground to help hidden, unconnected,
and unemployed people directly with aid, medical support, and compassion.

Charities
are oftentimes the first ones on the scene during times of crisis, and the last
ones to leave.

Their
commitment to relationships provides the foundation for encouraging people to
adopt critical behavior changes–such as social distancing and handwashing–and
cope with the consequences of isolation and loss of income.

Faith-based
charities, both global and domestic, usually work through already existing
local networks of communities that are lifelines to those who otherwise may get
lost in the clamor. These local networks are critical during this time of
global travel restrictions, when flying to hot spots is not realistic. The
coronavirus has turned crisis response into a local mandate.

Many
faith-based groups rely mainly, if not solely, on their faith communities for
donations. Charities oftentimes are manned heavily by volunteers. We know how
to get more done with less money. We have to be nimble to survive.

Our
groups could be doing more to help the unemployed, ill, and marginalized if
government limits on charitable donations were eased up.

Americans
want to help the helpers. Here are a few ways Congress can help.

First,
increase the $300 above-the-line charitable deduction.  The U.S. government thereby enlists the help
of ordinary Americans who can identify, and indeed already have identified,
effective partners throughout the U.S. and around the world.

Next,
the consequences of the coronavirus shutdown will last longer than 2020. So
should the temporary suspension of adjusted gross income limitations and
temporary universal charitable deductions.

As
the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability notes:
“Continuing these important incentives would encourage all Americans to give
more as communities work through the after-effects of the pandemic and address
continued needs.”

Also,
the government would encourage more giving by allowing donors to deduct gifts
to donor-advised funds under the temporary suspension of the adjusted gross
income provision.

The
U.S. Agency for International Development is actively working with large
faith-based organizations. But insiders tell us there is little incentive for
local USAID officials to give grants to small organizations on the ground–even
highly effective ones with stellar track records–-that lack the overhead and
manpower to comply with burdensome requirements.

This
is why the Trump administration has sought to identify new partners on the
ground and make it easier for small faith-based organizations, and first-time
partners, to apply for funds.

The
administration also has aimed to include
more women and women-led organizations
in humanitarian relief. When aid
makes it directly to women, it makes it to children, families, and the neediest
in the communities.

Yet
bureaucratic inertia and red tape are hard to overcome. Provisions in the new relief
package should recognize the twin aim of empowering
female leaders
and local organizations. Those provisions can help induce
USAID to redouble efforts to identify them and get them aboard. In the
meantime, Congress can unleash the power of individual American donors to
empower these vital networks.

Lockdowns
and stay-at-home orders have shown all of us how Americans benefit when individuals
everywhere pitch in to stem the spread of the virus.

Charities
are busy right now providing care packages of food, soap, and medicines, and spreading
the message of good hygiene and social distancing to the most vulnerable in
hard-to-reach places. But with the economic challenges, will these charities
survive when the next wave of this (or another) virus hits?

Congress
can help make sure they are. Lawmakers can multiply their efforts to conquer
the COVID-19 pandemic by freeing Americans to give to the charity of their
choice and prevailing upon USAID to partner
with
small yet effective and reputable faith-based organizations.





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