By / Jul 27

The economic effects from COVID-19 will reverberate for many years, and communities of color will feel them most powerfully. The Washington Post reports that 20% of Latinos—the highest reported demographic—were furloughed or laid off during the national quarantine. 

The Post also reports that 6 in 10 African American and Latino households said they didn’t have enough savings to cover three months of living. And while the government swiftly implemented the CARES Act to provide immediate economic assistance to American families and small businesses, even a few thousand dollars—the most a family could receive—doesn’t last long in the face of joblessness. Undocumented immigrants—a group of over 10 million people, according to Pew—were not eligible to receive funds at all.

At a time of intense national crisis, faith-based and secular nonprofits alike are demonstrating their value for those with nowhere else to turn. These entities offer Christians a collective way to care for those in need effectively and well. 

The Path Project

The Path Project, a Georgia nonprofit focused on helping children in low-income communities, wanted to help the families of the children they served and began reaching out to parents with obvious financial needs in the midst of COVID-19. 

“It was such an incredible blessing,” said Angelita Salgado, a single mother of five who received financial assistance from the Path Project, in a phone interview. “It’s hard to understand how someone could give so much and not expect anything in return.” 

Salgado is back to work part-time now, but covering the costs required for a family of six is substantial. In addition to the financial aid, she is grateful to the Path Project for offering her children laptops to finish out the school year with e-learning and providing educational resources and support for her family for the past seven years.

Ninety-five percent of nonprofits worldwide say they were affected negatively by COVID-19, but charities like the Path Project continue to work tirelessly with the resources they do have. Regardless of plunging contributions, nonprofits are less limited than government in their ability to help those locally in need, by raising money for specific needs quickly if necessary. 

Acts Housing

Acts Housing, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched into action as COVID-19 hit the nation, helping clients and community members maintain their homes in the face of job loss and economic stress. 

Angel Reyes, an immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, has been out of work since his job at a catering business was suspended in March. He’s one of multiple families who received financial assistance from Acts in the form of a deferred mortgage payment. 

“I feel a lot more secure, and less stressed, because of the help I’ve received,” said Reyes, who lives with his wife, in a phone interview.

Even those who didn’t lose jobs are suffering from cut hours and economic uncertainty. According to Pew, 40% of Latinos—as opposed to 27% of the American population—were forced to take a pay cut at minimum, and 86% of Latino small business owners report significant negative impact on their businesses by the pandemic.

United Against Poverty

In Florida, where 4.5 million immigrants comprise 21% of the population, United Against Poverty (UAP) has been helping people in need through their emergency food assistance program and Member Share Grocery Center, which allows qualified families to select nutritious food and necessary household items free of charge. 

UAP reports that 58.4% of Florida students normally receive free or reduced meal programs, so their commitment to providing food assistance in the face of forced e-learning and summer break remains high. 

“People everywhere are stressed about being able to purchase groceries for their families,” reads a recent email newsletter, encouraging donors to keep contributions coming. 

UAP also hosts job training courses, a Crisis Care Management program, educational resources, and offers referrals to partner organizations when necessary. 

World Relief

On a larger scale, World Relief has been organizing wide-reaching outreach programs, partnering with churches and local food banks. They are providing legal aid over virtual platforms and helping with translation for information about disease prevention and providing financial aid for immigrant families, specifically those who are undocumented or recently immigrated without a recent tax filing status that would make them eligible for the CARES Act. 

Nonprofits like these offer stability for vulnerable families, even during an unprecedented scenario like the present worldwide pandemic. 

With an unsteady market and personal economic uncertainty, it can be easy to chop regular donations out of one’s budget, but think twice before slashing these kinds of line items. It’s important to remember how we, as Christians, can love our neighbors well through the organizations that are intimately aware of specific community and individual needs. The choices we make today will have long-term effects on families for years to come. 

By / Dec 12

On Monday, the Internal Revenue Service issued interim guidance to aid taxpayers in complying with a troubling new tax provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts. The tax provision that this guidance seeks to address taxes nonprofit organizations on the cost of providing parking and transportation benefits to their employees. The guidance seeks to ease the burden of parking fringe benefits for employees of houses of worship and nonprofits by helping calculate the cost of their parking benefits and determining the effect these—no longer deductible—parking expenses have on a nonprofit’s unrelated business taxable income (UBTI).

Regarding the interim guidance, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated, “Treasury is sensitive to the concerns of the tax exempt community, and hopes this guidance can significantly limit the impact on nonprofit groups.”

As stated by Treasury, “Under this rule, employers will have until March 31, 2019, to change their parking arrangements to reduce or eliminate the number of parking spots they reserve for their employees. By making this change, many churches, schools, hospitals and other tax-exempt organizations may be able to reduce their associated UBTI.”

While the ERLC is grateful for Treasury’s attempt to ease the tax burden on nonprofit organizations and houses of worship, this guidance remains insufficient. Treasury’s assistance in providing relief through these means is limited in nature. The guidance proves to be cumbersome and a heavy administrative lift, requiring nonprofits and houses of worship of all sizes to follow a four-step calculation that varies for each organization and can even vary month to month. A permanent repeal of the language that initially created this tax burden—Internal Revenue Code Section 512(a)(7)—must be fixed through legislation.

House Ways and Means Chairman, Kevin Brady (R-Texas) has made this issue a priority by including a full repeal in the House tax bill that was released on Monday (Section 405). Congressman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) have both introduced legislation in the House and Senate, respectively, that would repeal this troubling tax provision (H.R. 6460 and S. 3332).

ERLC’s President Russell Moore commented on the tax provision,

Beyond the practical downsides, Congress should also consider first principles. Taxing houses of worship is deeply un-American—no matter how large or small the tax burden. The proper separation of the state from the church is at the heart of the American project. As the Founders understood, the power to tax is the power to destroy. Tax laws don’t exist to give special privileges for religious organizations. They are meant to recognize that, unlike in other places and at other times, the state here doesn’t regulate, or subsidize, the worship of God.

The ERLC continues to urge the House and Senate to swiftly repeal Section 512(a)(7) through any appropriate legislative package before the end of the calendar year.

By / Jul 24

The White House announced plans on Tuesday to release a new accommodation for non-profit religious groups within the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. A senior White House official explained, “This is part of ensuring that all women have access to contraception coverage.”

While the mandate already contains an accommodation, religiously affiliated groups have found it to be problematic. Under the current accommodation, groups desiring to opt out of providing certain contraception coverage to employees must fill out a religious exemption form. In filing the form, objecting institutions are agreeing that an insurance company will cover the contraceptives instead. Some recipients of the accommodation believe this action amounts to little more than an “accounting gimmick.”

The gimmick amounts to insurance companies saying they provide the contraceptives at no extra charge to the objecting institution. Those costs, however, are often made up in other areas, like increased premiums. Sarah Torre writes in a post for The Heritage Foundation, “By the [Obama] Administration’s own admission, there’s no guarantee that the funds collected by insurance companies from a religious employer’s premium payments won’t then be used to cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.”

Wheaton College was one of many institutions to protest the current accommodation. They felt by filling out the form they would still be involved, albeit indirectly, in providing contraceptive coverage. The Supreme Court has temporarily granted Wheaton an exemption from providing the required contraceptive coverage to its employees. According to CNN, “the new revisions to the Obamacare mandate reveal that the White House is anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court’s finalization of the temporary injunction in the coming months.”

The issues involved are the same, but this accommodation does not involve businesses like Hobby Lobby (a for-profit business). In light of the Hobby Lobby ruling, though, it appears The White House is trying to preemptively address objections of religiously affiliated groups before they (The White House) lose at the court level once more. Again, this is somewhat speculative, as are the terms of the new “accommodation” the White House is pledging.

A new accommodation may provide that the federal government would directly give contraception coverage to the employees of objecting institutions. Such an action would signal that, in keeping with the Supreme Court’s ruling, the government has not fully exhausted its options for pursuing coverage by the least restrictive means available, which it is required to do under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But these proposals remain speculative, so observers must be patient.

Supporters of religious liberty should remain vigilant as the official rule is announced. However, the appearance of a new accommodation suggests that the White House is backpedalling on its original stridency and this may give religious liberty advocates reason to be optimistic.