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March 23, 2009

Groups Back Obama Budget, Concerned About Tax Proposal

http://www.jewishjournal.com/nation/article/groups_back_obama_budget_concerned_about_tax_proposal_20090323

WASHINGTON (JTA)—More than 100 Jewish community organizations are backing President Obama’s 2010 budget while expressing “significant concerns,” but not opposing, a proposed decrease in the tax deduction for charitable contributions.

In a letter sent last week to Congress members, the organizations highlighted four specific Jewish communal priorities, including “comprehensive health care reform” that reduces costs while improving quality and access, and the reauthorization of child nutrition programs.

The groups also declared their support for various discretionary spending programs—including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant and the Social Services Block Grant—and urged the inclusion of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to build, rehabilitate and preserve housing for low-income families.

“Now, more than ever,” the letter asserted, “this economic crisis requires a federal budget that balances the need for long-term fiscal discipline with the need to sustain critical services in this time of economic crisis.”

The March 19 letter also raised questions about one Obama administration proposal.

“Many in our community have significant concerns” with the Obama administration’s plans to partially finance healthcare reform by the deduction for charitable contributions, the letter said.

It urged the administration to consider the impact of the measure on nonprofit organizations.

Signatories to the letter, which was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, included the United Jewish Communities, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, National Council of Jewish Women and the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, along with dozens of local community relations councils.

One group that did not sign was the Orthodox Union.

Public policy director Nathan Diament said the OU supported the measures endorsed in the letter but declined to sign on because the language objecting to the tax deduction change was not strong enough. Diament said the OU, which represents about 1,000 congregations and operates the largest kosher certification agency in the United States, wanted a “clear statement of opposition” to the reduction in the tax deduction.

JCPA’s Washington director, Hadar Susskind, said the letter took a moderate line because there was ³no community consensus² on the charitable deduction proposal. Some in the community were worried about it, but others believed it was good policy and unlikely to have much of an effect on nonprofit groups.

“There are varying opinions and nobody really knows what it’s going to do,” Susskind said, “but because it could have a negative impact, this was our attempt to express community concerns without implying opposition.”

Susskind said the issues emphasized in the letter were chosen because they are “big community priorities” that every agency involved in domestic policy cares about. They also encompass both short-term priorities—such as the child nutrition programs that are up for reauthorization this year—and longer-term goals such as health-care reform.

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