Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced that they will introduce legislation to temporarily halt certain tax rules in order to encourage and increase charitable contributions for Haitian relief efforts. Under current law, a taxpayer can only take a deduction for up to 50 percent of one’s income in a certain year, meaning a person cannot pay no taxes by giving away all of their income in a given year, and a corporation can only donate 10 percent of its income. After Hurricane Katrina, Congress waived both of these rules for donations designated for relief in the Gulf Coast. Today, the Senators proposed waiving the limitations for donations designated to Haiti relief in 2010. In addition, given that the special tax rules for contributions for food inventory have not yet been extended – they expired at the end of 2009, along with a number of other tax provisions, Congress has not yet passed the extenders bill – Schumer and Gillibrand’s legislation will extend the provision and allow corporations that donate food to the relief efforts to deduct the actual market value, rather than the cost to produce the food. Schumer and Gillibrand also warned New Yorkers of possible Haitian earthquake scams arising. Disasters often prompt individuals with criminal intent to solicit contributions purportedly for a charitable organization or a good cause.
“Haiti needs our help now more than ever before and we need to make sure U.S. citizens have every opportunity to provide the Haitian people the humanitarian aid they need,” said Schumer. “Their resources need to be focused on saving the injured and finding shelter for the thousands who have been left homeless by this crisis, and the United States needs to do its part in assisting Haiti as much as we can. Encouraging American’s to provide as much help as they can is the least we can do while Haiti beings it’s recovery and rebuilding efforts.”
“The tremendous damage in Haiti is horrifying and sobering for all of us as New Yorkers and Americans,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The outpouring of support from individuals across the country has been inspiring, but there is more we can do. The legislation I’m proposing would make small, but important changes to tax law to encourage Americans to make further donations for emergency relief in Haiti. I pledge that I, along with my colleagues in Congress and the Obama Administration, will continue to do everything we can to bring relief to the people in Haiti.”
Assembymember Ellen Jaffee who represents a large Haitian community in Rockland County says, “In the Villages of Spring Valley and Nyack where thousands of Haitian Americans await word to see if family members have survived, it is an enormous comfort to know that our Senators are doing everything in his power to bring relief to this devastated nation. We are thankful to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their efforts and sensitivity at this time of unspeakable grief in the Haitian community.”
Schumer and Gillibrand are also warning New Yorkers to beware of scams related to the Haitian earthquake. Before making a donation of any kind, New Yorkers should follow these guidelines:
- Do not respond to any unsolicited (SPAM) incoming emails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
- Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
- Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
- Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from know senders.
- Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
- Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
The Haitian earthquake has largely destroyed most of the buildings in Port-au-Prince, including Parliament and many of the city’s hospitals. Reports indicate that the streets are strewn with dead bodies and many more can be heard calling for help from underneath the rubble of fallen buildings. Port-au-Prince is reported to be without electricity and humanitarian organizations previously working in Haiti have been paralyzed by the disaster. Five United Nations employees have been reported dead and over 100 more are missing, as the office’s headquarters collapsed.
Aftershocks continue to rock the capital, making it difficult to begin recovery and reconstruction efforts. Destroyed roads are making it difficult to distribute humanitarian resources and though the Port-au-Prince airport remains open, the road connecting it to the capital is blocked.
Haiti, one of the most impoverished and politically unstable nations in the Western Hemisphere, was still recovering from four hurricanes that caused major damage at the end of 2008 when this earthquake struck. Due to the poorly constructed shacks that many Haitians live in, massive property damage and loss of life is expected. This is the worst earthquake to hit the Caribbean in more than 200 years.