Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Yesterday the Department of the Treasury, the IRS, and the Chief Counsel's office released the 2020-2021 Priority Guidance Plan, listing the guidance projects that will be the focus of those offices' efforts from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. There are no big surprises for those who have been tracking such items.
Here are the items most relevant to tax-exempt organizations, other than routine or ministerial guidance that is generally published each year, divided into (1) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act guidance, (2) items specifically listed under "Exempt Organizations," and (3) items from other headings that are relevant to tax-exempt organizations:
Implementation of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA)
- Regulations on computation of unrelated business taxable income for separate trades or businesses under § 512(a)(6), as added by section 13702 of the TCJA, and allocation of certain expenses by exempt organizations with more than one unrelated trade or business. Proposed regulations were published on April 24, 2020.
- Final regulations under § 4960 [excise tax on annual compensation over $1 million and certain parachute payments paid by applicable tax-exempt organizations], as added by section 13602 of the TCJA. Proposed regulations were published on June 11, 2020.
- Final regulations on the excise tax on net investment income of certain private colleges and universities under § 4968, as added by section 13701 of the TCJA. Proposed regulations were published on July 3, 2019. RELEASED 09/18/20 on IRS.gov as TD 9917.
- Guidance revising Rev. Proc. 80-27 regarding group exemption letters. Notice 2020-36 was published on May 18, 2020.
- Guidance on circumstances under which an LLC can qualify for recognition under § 501(c)(3).
- Guidance on additional deadline relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for applicable hospital organizations that are required to meet the community health needs assessment (CHNA) requirements under § 501(r)(3) of the Code. PUBLISHED 08/03/20 in IRB 2020-32 as NOT. 2020-56 (RELEASED 07/14/20).
- Final regulations on § 509(a)(3) supporting organizations. Proposed regulations were published on February 19, 2016.
- Guidance under § 4941 regarding a private foundation's investment in a partnership in which disqualified persons are also partners.
- Regulations regarding the excise taxes on donor advised funds and fund management.
- Final regulations under § 6104(c). Proposed regulations were published on March 15, 2011.
- Final regulations designating an appropriate high-level Treasury official under § 7611. Proposed regulations were published on August 5, 2009.
- Guidance under § 170(e)(3) regarding charitable contributions of inventory. [Listed under Burden Reduction.]
- Regulations and other guidance under §§ 419A and 501(c)(9) relating to welfare benefit funds, including voluntary beneficiary associations (VEBAs). [Listed under Employee Benefits.]
- Final regulations on the fractions rule under § 514(c)(9)(E). Proposed regulations were published on November 23, 2016. [Listed under Partnerships.]
- Regulations under § 704(d) regarding charitable contributions and foreign taxes in determining limitation on allowance of partner’s share of loss. [Listed under Partnerships.]
- Guidance updating electronic filing requirements for exempt organizations [under §§ 6011(h), 6033(n)] . . . to reflect changes made by the Taxpayer First Act. [Listed under Taxpayer First Act Guidance.]
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Democrats sent a letter to the IRS recently inquiring about the fact that the IRS seems to have automatically revoked the tax exempt status of 10s of thousands of charities based on the normal filing date of those charities on May 15, rather than the extended date of July 15.
Forbes has the story: "More than 30,000 nonprofit organizations in the U.S. have had their tax-exempt status automatically revoked by the Internal Revenue Service since May, Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, after an “apparent error” by the IRS may have erroneously revoked thousands of organizations’ tax-exempt status."
It almost surely is an error on the IRS's part, that will likely take some real work to fix, unfortunately.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Today the IRS released the anticipated final regulations interpreting Internal Revenue Code section 4968. That section, which Congress passed in 2017, imposes a 1.4 percent excise tax on the net investment income of colleges, universities, and other applicable educational institutions that have assets equal to or exceeding $500,000 per student, not counting assets used directly in carrying out the institution's exempt purpose.
The final regulations include a number of important modifications based on comments received. Three important changes relate to what assets are treated as being used directly in carrying out an institution's exempt purpose. With respect to intangible assets, the final regulations provide that to the extent royalty income generated by those assets would be excluded from net investment income (see below) they will be considered as used directly for carrying out exempt purposes. With respect to the reasonable cash balance that is included in assets treated as being used directly to carry out exempt purposes, the IRS dropped the 1.5 percent safe harbor from the proposed regulations in favor of allowing any reasonable method to be used to determine the reasonable cash balance amount. The final regulations also provide that one such method would be to use three months of operating expenses allocable to program services. And with respect to assets held by a related organization, the final regulations now provide that those assets can qualify as used directly to further the institution's exempt purposes if either they further the institution's exempt purposes or the related organization is a section 501(c)(3) organization and the assets are used directly to further the related organization's exempt purpose.
The IRS also dropped the requirement that institutions calculate their net investment income based on the rules under section 4940(c). The final regulations instead provide section 4968-specific rules for making this calculation. While drawing heavily from the section 4940(c) rules, the section 4968-specific rules now generally exclude from net investment income student loan interest income, student housing rental income, certain faculty and staff housing rental income, and royalty income from faculty or student generated intangible assets. However, net investment income still includes income from trademarks on the institution's logo or name and from donated or sold intangible assets. Finally, the IRS modified the final regulations to exclude from net investment income both any appreciation in net value of donated property that occurred prior to the date of donation to the institution and any gain attributable to the sale or exchange of exempt use property to the extent that property is used for the exempt purpose.
Another significant change, at least for one college, is that the IRS decided a student should not be considered "tuition-paying" both if their tuition is fully covered by grants from the institution (as was the case in the proposed regulations) but also if their tuition is fully covered by a combination of institution grants and government grants, including Pell grants and other forms of Federal and state student financial aid. This important change may help Berea College avoid application of the excise tax, which Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will appreciate, although grants from other, nongovernmental parties would still render a student tuition-paying.
The IRS also modified the definition of student to require being enrolled and attending a course for academic credit from the institution and being charged tuition at a a rate that is commensurate with the tuition rate charged to students enrolled for a degree. The proposed definition had limited the definition to persons enrolled in a degree, certification, or other program leading to a recognized educational credential. In addition, the IRS clarified that to determine whether a student is "located in the United States," meaning they resided in the United States for any portion of time during which they attended the institution, may be made by the institution using any reasonable method.
There were a number of other more technical modifications that in the interest of space I will not attempt to summarize here. Also, the IRS did reject some comments on the proposed regulations. This included rejected comments that asked that institutions under common control be aggregated for purposes of applying the $500,000 per student threshold and other changes relating to the definition of applicable educational institution. The IRS also rejected comments asking to expand the definition of "assets used directly in carrying out the institution's exempt purposes" by including assets "held for use" to carry out such purposes and asking to use the concept of functionally related business to determine if certain assets fell within this definition.
The Missing IRS: States (NRA, Bremer Trustees, Outreach Calling) and DOJ (We Build the Wall, Teva) Step Up
I do not have data to back this up, but my impression is that in the past it was common to see state authorities and, more rarely, U.S. Attorney offices working closely with the IRS when investigating the activities of a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. However, it appears that recently the IRS is almost always absent from such investigations.
State Investigations: The New York Attorney General's lawsuit against the National Rifle Association and the District of Columbia Attorney General's lawsuit against the NRA Foundation are prominent examples of this apparent trend. While the N.Y. AG cited among the NRA's alleged failures a lack of compliance with IRS requirements, there is no indication that she coordinated her investigation or the filing of the lawsuit with that agency. But these are not the only recent examples.
The Minnesota Attorney General has moved to replace the trustees of the Otto Bremer Trust, a charitable trust and private foundation that owns bank Bremer Financial Corp. The basis for this move is alleged violations of the duty of loyalty by the current trustees. Presumably such violations would also be of interest to the IRS, especially since at least some of them also allegedly constituted violations of the self-dealing prohibition, but there is no indication in the news reports of the AG's actions or the lengthy memorandum filed by the AG in court that the IRS is involved. (And if the IRS had been involved, you would hope they would have corrected the AG's repeated use of "IRS Code" in that memorandum.)
It is perhaps more typical to see the IRS absent when the actions of for-profit telemarketers are at issue, as the Federal Trade Commission tends to take the lead for the federal government in such matters. This is illustrated by the recent case brought by the FTC and several state attorneys general to shut down Outreach Calling, Inc. and several other companies for having "allegedly scammed consumers out of millions of dollars." It should be noted that the Center for Public Integrity highlighted the questionable activities of Outreach Calling and individuals associated with it more than two and a-half years ago. But the involvement of the FTC when matters within its jurisdiction arise only emphasizes the IRS absence in matters squarely implicating federal tax laws as well as state charity laws.
Department of Justice Investigations: The IRS also appears absent from two recent investigations by the Department of Justice. The most prominent one involves criminal charges against former senior advisor to President Trump Steve Bannon and others associated with an Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(4) nonprofit We Build the Wall, Inc., formed to fund the building of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. The investigation was pursued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for for the Southern District of New York. While the allegations relate to alleged lies made to donors about the use of the funds raised, some of the actual uses of those funds - compensation and payment for personal expenses - may have tax ramifications for both the organization and the individuals involved. Yet there is no indication in the indictment or otherwise that the IRS is involved. This is despite the fact that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was involved in the arrest of Bannon, presumably because one of the charges is mail fraud.
In a case a bit more removed from federal tax law, the Department of Justice's civil division has filed a False Claims Act complaint against two affiliated pharmaceutical companies, Teva Pharmaceutical USA Inc. and Teva Neuroscience Inc. relating to donations to charitable foundations. The allegations are that Teva used the foundations "as conduits to funnel kickbacks to Medicare patients." The announcement of the filing does not indicate any involvement by the IRS, including with respect to investigating the foundations involved. Coverage: Wall Street Journal. An earlier news story involving allegations of similar arrangements with other companies reported multi-million dollar payments to the federal government by the charities involved to resolve the claims against them, but again did not mention IRS involvement, nor did the DOJ announcement of that settlement.
Thursday, September 17, 2020
IRS Update: Draft Form 990-T, Form 990-PF, and Form 990 Schedules, More COVID-19 Accommodations, and Waiting on Final Regs
It appears that a combination of the pervasive coronavirus fatigue and pressing tax matters in others areas has slowed down the flow of new IRS developments for tax-exempt organizations. That said, here are some recent items:
- Draft Form 990-T and Form 990 Schedules: The IRS has released an early release draft of the 2020 Form 990-T and the draft Schedule A for that form. While there are not draft instructions available yet, it appears that each filer will need to complete a separate schedule A for each separate trade or business, given the siloing requirement of Internal Revenue Code section 512(a)(6). Hat tip: EO Tax Journal. I also noticed that there are now draft versions of the 2020 Form 990-PF (with instructions) and most if not all of the 2020 schedules for the Form 990 available on the IRS Draft Tax Forms webpage.
- COVID-19 Accommodations: While the extended deadlines for Form 990 and many other filings have now expired, the IRS has put in place other, less broad pandemic-related accommodations. For example, Notice 2020-56 extends the deadlines for tax-exempt hospitals to conduct community health needs assessments and implement strategies to meet those needs, as requried by IRC section 501(r). The IRS also continues to follow modified procedures relating to exams, including information document requests. And under Revenue Procedure 2020-29, the IRS is generally allowing the electronic submission of requests for letter rulings, closing agreements, and other documents.
- Anticipating Final Regs: The Office of Management and Budget last week completed its review of the IRC section 4968 investment income tax final regulations (see proposed regulations and comments), so public release of those regulations is imminent. No reports yet on the status of the IRC section 4960 compensation tax final regulations (see proposed regulations and comments). But if you are bored, you can always take a look at the final regulations under IRC section 170 relating to the SALT deduction limit, which school choice groups report will hurt their ability to use state tax credit programs to stimulate fundraising.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
I posted a new article on SSRN today that will be published in the Pitt Tax Review soon. This is an introduction to the symposium Pitt Law hosted back in November 2019 before the Covidian times on the 1969 Tax Act and Charities. I will post the link to the issue as soon as it goes live. It includes contributions from Ellen Aprill, Jim Fishman, Dana Brakman Reiser, Ray Madoff, and Khrista McCarden.
"Fifty years ago, Congress enacted the Tax Reform Act of 1969 to regulate charitable activity of the rich. Congress constricted the influence of the wealthy on private foundations and hindered the abuse of dollars put into charitable solution through income tax rules. Concerned that the likes of the Mellons, the Rockefellers, and the Fords were putting substantial wealth into foundations for huge tax breaks while continuing to control those funds for their own private ends, Congress revamped the tax rules to force charitable foundations created and controlled by the wealthy to pay out charitable dollars annually and avoid self-dealing. Today, with concerns of similar misuse of philanthropic institutions to further wealthy interests, it is worthwhile to reconsider this significant legislation fifty years later.
Natural questions arise. What was the goal of Congress with respect to charity and with respect to tax? Did it accomplish these goals? Are those goals still relevant? What goals might suggest themselves today? Do we have the ability to modify the law to support those new goals? On November 1, 2019, the Pittsburgh Tax Review hosted a symposium to examine the 1969 Tax Act."
The conclusion is kind of the kicker:
"As I reflect on this symposium that took place in 2019 before the origination of COVID-19 and the racial justice revolution ignited by the killing of Mr. George Floyd in Minneapolis, I think about the great potential of well-democratically-harnessed philanthropy and seriously doubt that can be accomplished within the space of “private” philanthropy. I lean strongly
towards eliminating tax benefits for this private “philanthropy” by denying tax exempt status to those organizations that are not public charities.
Why do I say this? Fundamentally, I believe the effort of philanthropy should not be publicly supported if it is not collectively determined. To me, Professor McCarden makes the beginnings of a persuasive case that the values inculcated and supported through the private foundation system are likely predominately exclusive ones rather than public ones. I think that lack of a public nature should matter. Oddly, the private foundation tax architecture not only supports these wealthy exclusive preferences, but as Professor McCarden points out, it forces the private foundation to spend a lot of money every year into the future furthering those preferences of the wealthy. To be clear, the problem with this form of philanthropy is not that it might support abstruse interests such as senators complained about with respect to the Mellons, but that it works to provide significant and lasting governmental benefits to the private, perhaps well meaning interests, of people simply because they happen to be wealthy. The private foundation tax architecture provides this support, lifts these efforts up, in the name of supporting collective efforts, but they are far from collectively led.
I believe deeply in the power of a fiercely independent and courageous civil society that empowers the voices of all in our communities, particularly those voices that have been and continue to be disempowered. But, the private foundation tax architecture even at its best likely can never really support such a vision because it is defined privately. And, as Professor Aprill shows, the lack of IRS enforcement capability likely makes this architecture weak anyway and unlikely to be able to ever ensure such a democratically based vision. The private foundation community is imbued with some important social justice voices such as Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation and Elizabeth Alexander of the Mellon Foundation.
Still, I believe its predominate ethic is that of Carnegie from The Gospel of Wealth: that the wealthy man is the savior of the rest of us, both in terms of their ability to invest their dollars and to spend them in ways that improve all lives. I think that wrong and harmful. That vision is not just antithetical to democracy, but it is antithetical to racial, gender, sexual orientation, and social justice. Given this, I think we ought to eliminate tax benefits for the private foundation form."
Appreciate comments good and bad on this one.
By: Philip Hackney
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
A few weeks ago a federal grand jury indicted the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the State of Ohio, Larry Householder, along with 4 other individuals and a social welfare organization called Generation Now, exempt under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, for engaging in a bribery scheme to pass legislation regarding nuclear energy that was worth about $1 billion. It involved approximately $60 million in bribes.
I was not blogging at the time, so writing this up after the announcement, but in my opinion this was a major indictment of the decision of the IRS to eliminate donor disclosure for dark money organizations like 501(c)(4) and (6) organizations. Disclosure of these dollars that the indictment alleges to be bribes could have very well alerted the IRS to a potentially problematic scheme. Additionally, there would have been the potential of asserting a false statement on the Form 990 filed by the social welfare organization.
The evidence is particularly indicative that unscrupulous folk may see dark money organizations as an easy method of laundering money now: "In March 2017, Householder began receiving quarterly $250,000 payments from the related-energy companies into the bank account of Generation Now. The defendants allegedly spent millions of the company’s dollars to support Householder’s political bid to become Speaker, to support House candidates they believed would back Householder, and for their own personal benefit. When asked how much money was in Generation Now, Clark said, “it’s unlimited.”"
In the Criminal Complaint, U.S. v. Matthew Borges, Case No. 1:20-MJ-00526 (July 16, 2020) on page 15 there is the following evidence: “Clark discussed with Householder, the use of a 501(c)(4), controlled by Householder, to receive payments: “what’s interesting is that there’s a newer solution that didn’t occur in, 13 years ago, is that they can give as much or more to the (c)(4) and nobody would ever know. So you don’t have to be afraid of anyone because there’s a mechanism to change it.”
This one is worth following and contemplating as we conceive of better policy to govern our nonprofit tax exempt sector.
By: Philip Hackney
Sunday, August 2, 2020
A little more than three weeks ago, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Treasury Department should investigate the tax-exempt status of universities as a result of their "Radical Left Indoctrination." Then Friday, TIGTA told Rep. Richard Neal that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin intends to follow through on some sort of investigation of the tax-exempt status of universities.
I'm not going to reiterate our entire analysis here, but Treasury and the IRS face three significant problems in investigating universities. The first is that, even if you assume that universities are politically biased--and even if you assume they teach that bias to students--that doesn't mean they can't be exempt. Tax-exempt educational institutions can endorse particular viewpoints.
Moreover, Treasury and the IRS run into two legal impediments in following through on this investigation. The first is section 7217, which prohibits the President from requesting that the IRS audit a particular taxpayer. The second is the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 which, like the 2018 Act, prohibits the IRS from targeting groups for regulatory scrutiny on the basis of their ideological beliefs.
Samuel D. Brunson
Friday, June 26, 2020
The TEGE Council has submitted comments on the proposed UBIT siloing rules under section 512(a)(6).
"We are pleased to announce that on June 23, 2020, the TEGE Exempt Organizations Council submitted comments to the IRS and Treasury in response to proposed regulations under Section 512(a)(6), commonly known as the UBIT Silo regulations. The comments were 101 pages, with exhibits, and represent a herculean effort on the part of the group below to spot issues, identify potential solutions, propose examples, and collaborate, coordinate, draft, and edit—all within the short window of time to submit comments for official consideration. Thanks to the committee for the generous gift of time, thought, and leadership. Thanks also to Alexander L. Reid (Regulatory Affairs Chair) and Chelsea Rubin for their leadership."
Here are some of the bottom line comments from the executive summary describing the 101 pages of comments:
"This section provides an outline of our recommendations, each of which is further explained below.
1. Taxpayers should be allowed to identify separate trades or businesses based on all applicable facts and circumstances, consistent with the other aspects of tax-exempt organization tax law. The NAICS codes should operate as a safe harbor for purposes of identifying separate trades or businesses.
2. Taxpayers should be permitted to change the identification of a trade or business (i.e. change the NAICS code assigned to its “silo”) within the first two years of operating a new trade or business regardless of the presence of any mistake in identifying the most appropriate NAICS code. There should be additional flexibility in revising the use of DB1/ 114583248.3 3 NAICS codes that, due to further experience with the rules and accounting for the activities, become better defined over time.
3. Investment activity is not an unrelated trade or business and should not be treated as an unrelated trade or business subject to 512(a)(6).
4. If the IRS and Treasury treat investment activity as an unrelated trade or business, then we recommend the following to make the regulations more administrable and less burdensome: a. Jettison the de minimis and control tests outlined in the proposed regulations for
purposes of determining when a partnership is an investment or an operating business and use applicable accounting standards instead. b. ERISA-covered trusts should be permitted to aggregate all unrelated trade or business activities together, including UBTI arising from a partnership, because ERISA oversight rules ensure that such plans do not engage in a trade or business through partnership activity.
c. Investments managed by registered investment advisors should be treated as qualifying investment activities that may be aggregated together."
There are 13 total executive summary points.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Back in March I missed this article in HistPhil by Ellen Aprill related to her work looking at federal charities that I think would be of interest to our readers. It is entitled Trump Donated His Salary to HHS. Is that Kosher?
"On March 3, President Trump’s Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham, announced on Twitter that, consistent with his commitment to donate his salary while in office, President Trump was giving his 2019 fourth quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services “to support efforts being undertaken to confront, contain, and combat #Coronavirus.” The announcement prompted questions about whether such an earmarked donation to a federal agency is possible. The answer in this case is yes, but getting to that answer requires several statutory steps and implicates a set of issues I just happened to have begun to research."
For taxpayers who itemize rather than take the standard deduction, section 170(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code permits a charitable contribution deduction for “a contribution or gift to or for the use of . . . the United States or the District of Columbia . . . if the contribution or gift is made for exclusively public purposes.” In general, gifts to the federal government must go to the general fund of the Treasury; agencies cannot augment Congressional appropriations. To that end, the miscellaneous receipts statute provides that “an official or agent of the Government receiving money for the Government from any source shall deposit the money in the Treasury as soon as practicable without deduction for any charge or claim.” Governmental agencies, however, can be given specific statutory authority to accept and retain donations. It turns out that the Department of Health and Human Services is one of the federal agencies with statutory authority to accept gifts for its benefit “or for carrying out any of its functions.” Thus, Trump’s gift is kosher."
I also recommend HistPhil to our readers.
Friday, June 12, 2020
One helpful service that government agencies can provide is issuing reports summarizing their activities, saving researchers and practitioners the work of gathering such information piecemeal based on reviewing every pronouncement and ruling that is issued. Two recently issued summaries relating to nonprofit law are particularly helpful in this regard, one relating to state enforcement efforts and the other to federal charitable contribution deduction disputes.
First, the National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) has issued a report detailing the activities of state officials with respect to charities from January 2019 to March 2020. From the introduction:
The contents of this report are a representative sample of cases and other initiatives from January 2019 to March 2020 in the areas of: I. Deceptive Solicitation; II. Governance and Breach of Fiduciary Duties; III. Trust & Estate Issues; IV. Health Care; and V. Other, including Registration, Legislation, and Guidance. Descriptions were provided by the relevant state, and questions regarding particular cases should be directed to that state. Contact information for state regulators can be found at www.nasconet.org.
Second, the Office of Chief Counsel, Internal Revenue Service has released an internal memorandum (CCA 202020002) that summarizes the issues and holdings in 121 federal court decisions from 2012 through mid-April 2020 relating to the charitable contribution deduction under Internal Revenue Code Section 170.
IRS Update: Executive Compensation Tax Proposed Regs, Donor Disclosure Final Regs, Silos & NOLs FAQs, and Group Exemptions
First is the Internal Revenue Service, which over the past month or so has been relatively productive even given remote working and COVID-19 related responsibilities:
- IRC 4960 (Tax on Excess Tax-Exempt Organization Executive Compensation) Proposed Regulations: Earlier this month the Service issued much-anticipated proposed regulations relating to this new tax. enacted by Congress in 2017. For the most part the regulations are consistent with earlier Notice 2019-19 that provided interim guidance for this section. This includes with respect to the tax not reaching many government-related entities, including most notably public universities and colleges, as Ellen Aprill has detailed. The most significant aspect of the proposed regulations is that they create a couple of exceptions to help related taxable organizations avoid being subject to the tax if their employees provide limited services to a covered tax-exempt organization but without any compensation being paid, directly or indirectly, by the tax-exempt organization. For more coverage, see The National Law Review and the numerous accounting and law firm summaries that can be found through a Google search.
- IRC 6033 Donor Disclosure Final Regulations: To probably no one's surprise, late last month the IRS issued final regulations relating to disclosure to the IRS of donor identifying information on Schedule B to the Form 990 & 990-EZ with no substantive changes from the proposed regulations. While the regulations address a variety of disclosure issues, the most (only) controversial issue was the elimination of the requirement that tax-exempt organizations other than 501(c)(3) and 527 entities report the names and addresses of their substantial donors to the IRS. For more coverage, see The Hill, The National Law Review, and The NonProfit Times.
- IRC 512(a)(6) Silos and Net Operating Losses FAQs: The CARES Act provision that temporarily allows the carrying back of net operating losses (NOLs) to earlier tax years raised a question for tax-exempt organizations with NOLs from their unrelated business activities - how does this provision interact with the siloing requirement of Section 512(a)(6), which going forward limits the use of NOLs generated in one unrelated business silo to future taxable income generated in that silo? The IRS has now answered the question in a series of FAQs: carried back NOLs can be applied against aggregate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) in taxable years beginning before January 1, 2018, but for later years can only be applied against UBTI from the same silo that generated the NOL.
- Group Exemptions Proposed Revenue Procedure: In Notice 2020-36, the IRS provided a proposed revenue procedure that would modify and supersede Revenue Procedure 80-27 (as modified by Revenue Procedure 96-40 with respect to where group annual reports should be filed). The new revenue procedure is intended to be a comprehensive resource for the more than 440,000 organizations currently subject to the more than 4,000 outstanding group exemption letters, as well as future central and subordinate organizations. It reflects recent statutory changes, specifically the automatic revocation requirement for failure to file required annual returns and the section 501(c)(4) organization notice requirement. It also adds a number of new requirements, including that a new group exemption letter will be issued only if there are a least five subordinate organizations and will be maintained only if there is at least one subordinate organization, that subordinate organizations must both all be under the same 501(c) paragraph (which can be different from the central organization's classification) and if 501(c)(3)s must all be public charities, not private foundations, and that subordinate organizations must have both the same or similar purposes and a uniform governing instrument. Some of these requirements will not apply to existing subordinate organizations, but will apply to any future ones (including under existing group exemption letters). Comments are due by August 16, 2020.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
The Independent Sector in an April 29, 2020 letter asked Congress to suspend the UBIT silo rule under section 512(a)(6) for 2019 and 2020. They estimate it would provide an average of $15,000 per impacted nonprofit.
"6. Suspend the “Siloing” Requirement for Unrelated Business Income for 2019 and 2020. Nonprofit organizations currently are struggling to comply with new, artificially strict accounting rules that prevent them from off-setting income with business losses. The CARES Act made it significantly easier for many for-profit businesses to reduce their taxes with losses while doing nothing to mitigate this unfair treatment of nonprofits. Suspending this provision will free-up an average of $15,000 per year in flexible funding that impacted nonprofits desperately need to keep their doors open and meet rising community needs."
In section 2203 of the CARES Act Congress suspended limits on net operating losses that it had imposed in the 2017 Tax Act. That has freed up capital for many wealthy individuals and businesses in a way that has been criticized in the popular press. Nonprofits too can take advantage of this relaxation to seek refunds from prior years where they were limited in taking NOLs against unrelated business taxable income. However, there is some difficulty in figuring out how to apply the UBIT siloing rules in this situation. Suspending those rules would give clarity to that problem and free up more dollars consistent with what Congress presumably intended in relaxing this rule for businesses.
Though it's not clear to me that this would free up money where it is desperately needed, because I was not a fan of the provision to begin with, I am inclined to think Congress ought to do this. It was not an essential addition to the taxation of exempt organizations, and it might free some money up that allows some nonprofits to make it to the other side of this health and financial crisis.
Still, I think the most important thing Congress can do is to get dollars to nonprofits through either the PPP or directly through grants where the nonprofits are carrying out important activities in helping Americans through this Pandemic.
They also urge Congress to increase the temporary universal charitable contribution deduction that Congress included in the CARES Act from $300 per taxpayer to $4,000 for single and $8,000 for married filing jointly above the line charitable contribution deduction. I am skeptical of these universal charitable contribution deductions. I fear the efficiency here is small. A Penn Wharton analysis of the $300 deduction suggested it would enhance charitable giving by only 5 cents on every tax dollar. Additionally, the IRS is not set up to police fraud. Though it might get some needed dollars to charitable institutions, I fear the extra deduction would be abused in way taxpayers would know and would undermine American belief in the honesty and fairness of our system.
The Independent Sector letter was similar but different than one put out by the National Council of Nonprofits signed by a broad group of nonprofits. Broadly though there is national agreement that nonprofits need the help of the federal government.
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Thought today I would go over the unemployment provisions of the CARES Act. Though not necessarily focused on nonprofit organizations, some aspects open these provisions up to use by the nonprofit community. Additionally, like any business nonprofit leaders need to inform themselves of all the different sources of money out there to help patch us through this unprecedented crisis.
Most significantly for the nonprofit community Congress created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in section 2102 of the Act. It is available to those not eligible for regular UI, such as the self-employed, the gig-economy, contract work or those who have already used up unemployment eligibility. It is available for 39 weeks, ending December 31, 2020.
This provision is important to the nonprofit community because charitable nonprofits, for instance, are exempt from the unemployment insurance system and often do not pay into the system. One that some have worried would not be covered include churches and clergy. But the Department of Labor seems to indicate clergy are covered.
The Department of Labor has stated: The CARES Act was designed to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways. The CARES Act includes a provision of temporary benefits for individuals who have exhausted their entitlement to regular unemployment compensation (UC) as well as coverage for individuals who are not eligible for regular UC (such as individuals who are self-employed or who have limited recent work history). These individuals may also include certain gig economy workers, clergy and those working for religious organizations who are not covered by regular unemployment compensation, and other workers who may not be covered by the regular UC [unemployment compensation] program under some state laws. To access this benefit, the individual needs to show some Covid-19 impact on their work history.
Ultimately though you will have to check with your state as to whether your nonprofit's situation is covered.
The other major change that makes the unemployment provision particularly useful at building a bridge to when we can get back to work is that the weekly benefit has been increased by $600. This is on top of whatever amount the state already paid. This increase as currently scheduled runs from as early as March 29th through July 31, 2020. Some Democrats are working on getting that end date extended. Note that the start date of these new benefits is dependent upon your state.
Also, significantly, the CARES Act extends unemployment insurance for 13 weeks. In most states this makes unemployment run 39 weeks - 26 weeks for regular + 13 extra weeks.
The CARES act also provides federal funds to support work-sharing arrangements.
If you are interested in looking further, I have looked at a lot of online descriptions of the unemployment provisions, I found this document by the Jewish Federations of North America to be particularly useful.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Because the new universal charitable contribution (above the line) deduction of $300 is per eligible individual, defined in Section 62(f) of the Code as an individual who does not elect to itemize deductions, some have suggested that married individuals might be able to deduct $600 rather than just $300. One of our longtime readers, NYU Professor Harvey P. Dale, pointed out there is strong reason to believe legislators did not intend that, and that the IRS and the Treasury Department will not likely interpret the Internal Revenue Code that way.
The Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation released its “Description of the Tax Provisions of Public Law 116-136, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (‘CARES’) Act,” JCX-12R-20 (April 23, 2020). Footnote 76, on page 22, reads as follows: “The $300 limit applies to the tax-filing unit. Thus, for example, married taxpayers who file a joint return and do not elect to itemize deductions are allowed to deduct up to a total of $300 in qualified charitable contributions on the joint return.” In the text it also states that the universal deduction is only available in 2020. While neither of these statements is an ultimate legal authority, the Joint Committee description is a highly persuasive authority for the IRS and the Treasury Department. [N.B. I believe the temporary nature of the universal charitable contribution deduction is well textually supported as has been noted on here before because it is only available for tax years beginning in 2020.]
Also worth noting that in one study by the Penn Wharton Budget Model, very little of the tax dollars given up here are expected to spur charitable giving. They estimate that though the deduction will cost $2 billion, it will induce only an extra $110 million in charitable giving.
Friday, April 24, 2020
I'm going to end the week where I started it: with the Paycheck Protection Program.
Remember, the CARES Act created the PPP, which expands the SBA's loan program. Under the PPP the government can make or guarantee forgivable loans to small businesses--and, in an expansion or its previous mandate, small nonprofit organizations--provided those organizations use the funds for permissible purposes, including critically, for compensation.
The president signed the CARES Act into law on March 27. One week later, the SBA issued a FAQ dealing with the PPP and faith-based organizations. In essence, the FAQ clarified that the PPP was available to faith-based organizations under essentially the same terms as it was to any other nonprofit. That is, as long as the faith-based organization met the size limitations and used the money for purposes, it could participate in the PPP.
(It turns out that the SBA differentiated faith-based organizations from other nonprofits in one critical manner: while the law applies the same affiliation rules to nonprofits as it does to for-profit borrowers, the SBA announced that it will not look at the relationship between faith-based organizations where that relationship is based on religious teachings or other religious commitments. In regulations, the SBA went on to explain that applying the affiliation rules to religions that had doctrinal reasons for affiliating would impose a substantial burden on the organizations' free exercise, raising First Amendment and RFRA questions. Thus, the SBA said, it would take faith-based organizations at their word if they claimed their affiliation was based on religious requirements.)Ariz
Interestingly, in its April 3 FAQ, the SBA explicitly states that "loans under the program can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and other staff engaged in the religious mission of institutions" (emphasis mine).
Thursday, April 23, 2020
Some context: 2017's TCJA added section 512(a)(6) to the Code. That section says that, where a tax-exempt organization has multiple unrelated trades or businesses, it has to calculate unrelated business taxable income separately for each. Moreover, under that calculation, an organization's UBTI can't be negative. Effectively, then, the TCJA siloed UBTI losses. A tax-exempt organization could carry them forward to future years, but couldn't use them to offset UBTI from a separate trade or business.
The proposed regulations relax that siloing a little. Under the proposed regulations, a tax-exempt organization will determine the first two digits of the North American Industry Classification System for each of its separate unrelated trades or businesses.
Broadly speaking, the NAICS uses six-digit numbers to classify the economy hierarchically. The first two digits represent one of 20 sectors; the third digit designates the subsector, the fourth digit the industry group, etc. By focusing solely on the first two digits rather than digging deeper down the NAICS codes, the IRS lets tax-exempt organizations to treat a wider breadth of unrelated businesses as being the same, and thus makes it more possible for a tax-exempt organization to offset UBTI in one endeavor with losses from another.
Samuel D. Brunson
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
And the pandemic has been devastating to the arts world, a world that quite frequently relies on public performance both to raise revenue and to encourage donors. The novel coronavirus has devastated the jazz world (which is my love), killing jazz legends and shutting down performance spaces.
And then there's dance, an art form perhaps less-well-known and less appreciated than jazz. In Illinois alone, dance companies expect to lose $4.5 million in revenue through April 30, and more if (as is likely) the shutdown lasts longer. Hubbard Street Dance Company, for instance, ended up cancelling the last week of its Decadence tour in Italy in February and then, hours before it opened the performance in Chicago, Gov. Pritzker ordered closed gatherings of more than 1,000 people, closing the performance before it opened.
So how do arts organizations survive? Fortunately, the federal government has provided some help, including the Paycheck Protection Program and $75 million to be distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts.
State and local governments have been stepping up too. Chicago and Illinois have joined together with the Arts for Illinois Relief Fund, which provides grants to artists and arts organizations. The Fund is funded by the city, the state, and private philanthropy (of both the wealthy and the ordinary person type).
Still, the ability of arts organizations to weather this storm, while backstopped by state and philanthropic money, is, at best, tenuous. Once we get past the current crisis, arts organizations may need to rethink their funding models.
In the meantime, while I'm familiar with the steps Chicago and Illinois are taking to protect nonprofit arts organizations, I am less aware of what other cities and states are doing. Does anybody have examples of COVID-19-related support that their city or state is undertaking to protect and shore up the arts?
Samuel D. Brunson
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Yesterday I blogged about the Paycheck Protection Program. In short, as part of the CARES Act, Congress expanded the SBA's loan-making authority. The SBA could, under the CARES Act, guarantee loans made to small businesses, loans that, if used for appropriate purposes, could potentially be forgiven. In addition, the CARES Act expanded the scope of borrowers to include not only small businesses, but also small nonprofit organizations.
Yesterday's discussion was largely academic, though. It turns out that in a short 13 days, borrowers had exhausted the full $349 billion Congress allocated to the PPP. With no money left, borrowers (for- or nonprofit) were out of luck.
But maybe they're not out of luck after all: The Hill is reporting that Congress and the president have reached a deal to provide more money to the PPP. While we don't have details yet, but expectations are that it will include another $310 billion, available to small businesses and nonprofits. That number will apparently include $75 billion for hospitals (and I'll be interested in seeing if there's any specific amount allocated to nonprofit hospitals, or if the $75 billion is for all hospitals).
Anyway, it's all questions for now, but this is good news for small nonprofits that hadn't yet gotten a PPP loan.
Samuel D. Brunson
Monday, April 20, 2020
Last week, Lloyd mentioned three sections of the CARES Act of particular interest to the nonprofit community. One of those three sections is the Paycheck Protection Program, created under section 1102 of the Act.
Broadly speaking, the PPP expands the Small Business Administration's authority to make loans to small businesses either directly or indirectly. Under the PPP, essentially, the SBA guarantees 100% of covered loans. A borrower can only use these loans for specific purposes, including (among other things) payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities.
Critically, to the extent a borrower spends the borrowed money in qualifying ways (payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities), the loan will be forgiven.
And, while the SBA loan program traditionally applied only to small for-profit businesses, the PPP explicitly includes nonprofits.
However, qualifying nonprofits face the same requirements as for-profit businesses, including a cap on the number of employees. Like a small business, a nonprofit only qualifies if it employs 500 or fewer people. And, like, a small business, nonprofits are subject to the SBA's affiliation rules.
Because SBA loans have historically only been available to for-profit entities, the affiliation rules focus largely on ownership and control (especially of stock). This is, at best, an imperfect match for nonprofits, which generally lack equity owners.
Presumably, in looking at affiliation in nonprofits, the SBA will look at the final two criteria: affiliation based on management or on identity of interest.
I'm hesitant to be too critical of a program thrown together quickly to deal with a worldwide pandemic. It inevitably is going to face unexpected problems, and grafting nonprofits onto a for-profit loan program seems almost built to raise those problems. As a result, I'll be interested in seeing how it ends up applying the affiliation rules to nonprofits. Still, this loan program will provide a lifeline to small nonprofits, making it easier for them to keep their employees and keep their physical spaces.
Samuel D. Brunson