As someone who works in the political scene in DC, I feel that I have a unique point of view to offer on this matter that may help educate others. First of all, to set up the scene, I am a lobbyist for higher education. I work for a liberal non-profit association, and classify myself as an ardent Democrat. However, the faith-based legislation that President Bush has advocated will do a lot to help colleges and universities.
What is this whole charitable choice deal? Basically, the term charitable choice refers to a set of rules about how government buys social services. Charitable choice is actually not a new phenomenon, and in fact has been signed into law four different times, however on a more limited basis. It currently applies to these domestic programs: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (1996); Welfare-to-Work (1997); Community Services Block Grant (1998); AND SAMHSA drug treatment (2000). What the Bush proposal will do is allow faith-based organizations to take part in all federal contract processes. Not really a revolutionary concept.
But what about possible discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people? Unfortunately, the White House, being the White House, entered into a horrible agreement that would permit organizations that win federal contracts to ignore local and state anti-discrimination laws. Normally, this wouldn't matter since the federal anti-discrimination laws would remain in place. However, while some forward thinking states and localities have included sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination laws, the federal government has not. Thus, we have a problem. However, the Senate sponsors of the bill have recognized the fact that the bill won't pass with the pro-discrimination language included, and will remove it from the final version.
You said something about how this would help colleges and universities? Not only will this bill tremendously aid colleges and universities, but it will help ALL non-profit organizations. How? Well, I'll tell you. The charitable choice language is actually just a small part of the whole bill. The majority of the legislation is actually tax incentives designed to help people give more money to charitable organizations, such as colleges and universities.
The most important of these is the IRA rollover for charitable contributions. Under current law, individuals who wish to donate to a charity from an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) must declare the withdrawal as income and claim a deduction for charitable contributions. For individuals who give large amounts to charities, this creates the possibility that they will not be able to deduct the full value of the contribution because of the limits on the percentage of one's income that may be deducted for charitable contributions.. In effect, the current statute actually discourages some taxpayers from contributing their IRA assets to charity. The IRA rollover would allow individuals to exclude from gross income any distributions from a traditional or Roth IRA that are given directly to a qualified charitable organization.
The second most important provision, and one that affects younger taxpayers, is the non-itemizer deduction for charitable donations. Currently, individual taxpayers that itemize their deductions may claim a deduction for contributions made to qualified charitable organizations. However, taxpayers who elect the standard deduction ("non-itemizers") may not claim a deduction for charitable contributions. Approximately two-thirds of all tax filers (85 million Americans) are non-itemizers, and thus are not allowed to claim tax deductions for their charitable contributions. Allowing non-itemizers to deduct their charitable contributions would help increase support for charitable organizations by rewarding and encouraging giving by all taxpayers. The economic benefit of this proposal could be enormous. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers report indicates that the charitable deduction for non-itemizers could increase giving by $14 billion per year and could stimulate 11 million new givers. Providing this option to taxpayers would increase the number of lower and middle income Americans who give to colleges and universities. Additionally, it will help create a new spirit and habit of giving in individuals who would otherwise not make donations.
There are other provisions as well that will help higher education, but I won't go into them now. Overall, the point of this jargon-laden article is to demonstrate that the faith-based initiative is not evil, but will actually do some good. And for those of you who say that this violates separation of church and state, that is nonsense. First of all, it has nothing to do with the government supporting or not supporting religion. Rather, it seeks to support some of the services that some faith-based organizations offer. Second, this has already been codified into law, and no constitutional crises have developed as of yet.
I look forward to any and all responses.