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.
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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.