Thursday, January 14, 2021
2020 was undoubtedly an unkind year to nonprofits in America, but there were at least a couple of positive developments for the industry: one of these was the IRS granting retroactive refunds for taxes nonprofit organizations paid for the “parking lot tax” which the legislature repealed in 2019. This tax, included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, imposed a sizable unrelated business income tax on subsidized parking offered by these organizations to their employees. Many in the nonprofit industry objected to the parking lot tax on the grounds that it went too far in expanding the unrelated business income tax and placed an unfair burden on the often slim resources of nonprofit organizations. While the relevant legislation went into effect in 2019, the IRS has been issuing and updating guidance about getting a refund for parking lot taxes paid in prior years throughout 2020: for the IRS’s official statement, see https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/how-to-claim-a-refund-or-credit-of-unrelated-business-income-tax-ubit-or-adjust-form-990-t-for-qualified-transportation-fringe-amounts.
For additional reading on this topic see https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/irs-authorizes-parking-benefit-tax-refunds-for-nonprofits.aspx.
David Brennen, University of Kentucky College of Law
Friday, January 8, 2021
Nonprofit hospitals are, along with all hospitals, struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic. But that role has not caused a let up in negative scrutiny of their activities by journalists, Senator Chuck Grassley, or state legislators. It also has not halted the continuing consolidation of health care entities.
For example, ProPublica reports that "Nonprofit Hospital Almost Never Gave Discounts to Poor Patients During Collections, Documents Show," describing the practices of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Memphis' largest health care system. And the N.Y. Times reports that "The largest hospital system in New York sued 2,500 patients for unpaid medical bills after the pandemic hit," describing the activities of state-run Northwell Health system, which consists primarily of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofits.
Responding to these and other concerns, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote a public letter to every member of the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees about the need for new attention to the tax laws governing nonprofit hospitals. Senator Grassley is rotating off of the Finance Committee, having hit his term limit for that committee under Senate GOP rules, and of course his influence would have been reduced by the Democrats taking control of the Senate under any conditions. But he likely will still have influence over such matters in the new Congress, giving his longstanding interest in the rules for tax-exempt organizations.
In the states, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that "New Jersey may be the first state to impose per-bed fees on nonprofit hospitals for municipal services." The $3 per day per licensed bed fee is paired with preservation of nonprofit hospital property tax exemption, which has been under increasing attack in New Jersey, with approximately two-thirds of the state's nonprofit hospitals having been taken to tax court. However, Governor Phil Murphy has not yet said if he will sign the bill.
Finally, consolidation of nonprofit health care providers also continues. For example, the Federal Trade Commission recently lost an appeal of a federal district court's denial of a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the merger of Thomas Jefferson University and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in the Philadelphia area. And 501(c)(4) nonprofit health insurers Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care have now completed their merger after having received federal and state approvals (after some divestment).
Saturday, November 21, 2020
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has published Opportunities Exist to Improve Oversight of Hospital's Tax-Exempt Status. Here are the highlights of the report:
What GAO Found
Nonprofit hospitals must satisfy three sets of requirements to obtain and maintain a nonprofit tax exemption (see figure).
Requirements for Nonprofit Hospitals to Obtain and Maintain a Tax-Exemption
While PPACA established requirements to better ensure hospitals are serving their communities, the law is unclear about what community benefit activities hospitals should be engaged in to justify their tax exemption. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identified factors that can demonstrate community benefits, but they are not requirements. IRS does not have authority to specify activities hospitals must undertake and makes determinations based on facts and circumstances. This lack of clarity makes IRS's oversight challenging. Congress could help by adding specificity to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).
While IRS is required to review hospitals' community benefit activities at least once every 3 years, it does not have a well-documented process to ensure that those activities are being reviewed. IRS referred almost 1,000 hospitals to its audit division for potential PPACA violations from 2015 through 2019. However, IRS could not identify if any of these referrals related to community benefits. GAO's analysis of IRS data identified 30 hospitals that reported no spending on community benefits in 2016, indicating potential noncompliance with providing community benefits. A well-documented process, such as clear instructions for addressing community benefits in the PPACA reviews or risk-based methods for selecting cases, would help IRS ensure it is effectively reviewing hospitals' community benefit activities.
Further, according to IRS officials, hospitals with little to no community benefit expenses would indicate potential noncompliance. However, IRS was unable to provide evidence that it conducts reviews related to hospitals' community benefits because it does not have codes to track such audits.
Why GAO Did This Study
Slightly more than half of community hospitals in the United States are private, nonprofit organizations. IRS and the Department of the Treasury have recognized the promotion of health as a charitable purpose and have specified that nonprofit hospitals are eligible for a tax exemption. IRS has further stated that these hospitals can demonstrate their charitable purpose by providing services that benefit their communities as a whole.
In 2010, Congress and the President enacted PPACA, which established additional requirements for tax-exempt hospitals to meet to maintain their tax exemption.
GAO was asked to review IRS's implementation of requirements for tax-exempt hospitals. This report assesses IRS's (1) oversight of how tax-exempt hospitals provide community benefits, and (2) enforcement of PPACA requirements related to tax-exempt hospitals.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration to specify in the IRC what services and activities Congress considers sufficient community benefit. GAO is also making four recommendations to IRS, including to establish a well-documented process to ensure hospitals' community benefit activities are being reviewed, and to create codes to track audit activity related to hospitals' community benefit activities. IRS agreed with GAO's recommendations.
Friday, November 20, 2020
There is some much continuing activity relating to to conservation easements that it is difficult to keep track of everything. Fortunately, fellow blogger Nancy McLaughlin (Utah) has recently updated her comprehensive summary of court decisions, Trying Times: Conservation Easements and Federal Tax law (Sept. 2020). It undoubtedly will need to be updated for many years, as just last month taxpayers filed at least 27 Tax Court petitions relating to claimed conservation easement deductions according to Tax Notes (subscription required).
The Department of Justice has also provided more information in its lawsuit against promoters of syndicated conservation easements, including identifying 42 additional such deals, again according to Tax Notes. The Internal Revenue Service this week issued a memo emphasizing the use of summons and summons enforcement in syndicated conservation easement cases, among others, and Chief Counsel recently issued a Notice providing further guidance about the settlement of such cases. Finally, Senators Grassley, Daines, and Roberts recently reintroduced the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act targeting abusive conservation easement arrangements.
Additional Coverage: Washington Post ("Wealth investors seem to be exploiting land-conservation breaks, and the Senate is taking notice").
Monday, October 19, 2020
Figured readers would be interested in this look by Brian Mittendorf at the implications for Donor Advised Funds of Fairbairn v. Fidelity that appears in HistPhil.org.
"One way the concern that commercial DAFs are donor-centric arises is in the competition between sponsoring organizations. The lawsuit alleges that Fidelity Charitable differentiated itself from other charitable options by its “superior ability to handle complex assets,” even stating in correspondence about the possibility of receiving a gift of one particular type of asset that “Vanguard can’t do this but we do it frequently.” The general public may think of competition among charities as focusing on who can best put gifts to charitable use. It turns out this is an antiquated notion: the intense competition centering on seamlessly receiving and converting complex assets for donors presents a stark contrast.
A related issue is that DAFs increasingly are vehicles that provide disposal options to donors for illiquid assets. In the Fairbairn case, the assets donated were technically liquid (they were publicly traded) but the size of the donation would threaten share price if it were a sale instead of a donation, an eventuality that formed the basis for the lawsuit. However, donating such assets permits a tax deduction for the value, even though an outright sale at that value would be problematic. "
And, "A final issue that surfaces in the Fairbairn case is that some DAF sponsors may implicitly or even explicitly be beholden to their commercial affiliates. Legally speaking, Fidelity Charitable is a distinct entity from Fidelity Investments; as is the case for Vanguard Charitable and Vanguard; and so on. Yet, the shared names and logos underscore a nontrivial affiliation. Critics have argued that the commercial DAFs invest funds heavily in their affiliated investment companies and, as such, generate substantial fees for them. This, in turn, could create incentives to retain funds in investments rather than distribute them to charitable endeavors. The allegations in the Fairbairn case are consistent with this fear."
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Congress Update: Syndicated Conservation Easements, NRA, and Proposed Expansions of Above-the-Line Donation Deduction
More Slamming of Syndicated Conservation Easements: As the IRS continues its court battles and settlement program relating to syndicated conservation easements, the Senate Finance Committee released a lengthy bipartisan report criticizing these transactions. The introduction includes this passage:
The syndicated conservation-easement transactions examined in this report appear to be nothing more than retail tax shelters that let taxpayers buy tax deductions at the end of any given year, depending on how much income those taxpayers would like to shelter from the IRS, with no economic risk. Although the various offerings differ in their specifics, the general outcome is the same: for every dollar a taxpayer pays to a promoter to become an "investor" (or a "partner" or a "member") in a syndicated conservation-easement transaction, he or she commonly purchases a little more than four dollars' worth of tax deductions. For most taxpayers involved, this ultimately means that for every dollar paid to tax-shelter promoters, the taxpayers saved two dollars in taxes they did not pay.
Calls for IRS to Investigate the NRA: In the wake of the New York Attorney General seeking dissolution of the National Rifle Association, Democratic members of the House Ways & Means Committee have called for the IRS to also investigate the section 501(c)(4) organization and its related, section 501(c)(3) foundation. Of course it remains to be seen whether the IRS will do so, regardless of who wins the November presidential election. Additional coverage: Mother Jones (including a link to the letter).
Universal Giving Pandemic Response Act: A bipartisan group of nine Senators are sponsoring S.4032, which would expand in two ways the temporary above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions included in the CARES Act and codified in Internal Revenue Code section 62(a)(22). One expansion would be the amount, increasing it to half of the taxpayers standard deduction up from $300; the 2020 standard deduction is $12,400 for single taxpayers and $24,800 for married taxpayers filing jointly. The other would be the time window for contributions, extending it back from January 1, 2020 (for calendar year taxpayers) to January 1, 2019, with amended returns permitted for taxpayers who did not itemize their deductions in 2019. However, passage appears highly unlikely, especially with the apparent failure of new coronavirus relief legislation.
Friday, August 28, 2020
A bill introduced on the floor of Congress June 22nd is attracting bipartisan approval and could signal a significant change in how taxpayers choose to do their deductions this year. The Universal Pandemic Response Act, proposed by republican senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, would increase the limit for above-the-line charitable deductions to one third of the standard deduction. Breaking the matter down to hard numbers, this piece of legislation would increase the charitable deduction from $300 to $4,133 for individual taxpayers and $8,267 for taxpayers filing jointly. This proposal would be a significant expansion on what has traditionally been a relatively small available deduction for taxpayers: perhaps cognizant of this, the law is set to have a short lifespan and would only extend to the end of this tax year, though it will also allow for amended 2019 tax returns with contributions made before July 15th. Though the bill originated from the right side of the Senate, the bill has gained bipartisan support as democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware allied with senator Lankford to rally both political parties to pass the bill. With the global financial turmoil which has followed in the wake of the COVID epidemic Americans nonprofits stand to suffer as much as, if not more than, their for-profit counterparts. Perhaps the passage of this proposed legislation will incentivize American taxpayers to lend some more support to nonprofit organizations during this time of crisis.
To view the proposed law, see the following official link from Congress: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/4032
By David A. Brennen, Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky
Thursday, August 27, 2020
In a tumultuous summer that saw the temporary closing down of the Internal Revenue Service, it is worthwhile to revisit important tax legislation from the prior summer in a time before the COVID epidemic turned the world upside down: namely the Taxpayer First Act. With the passage of this law, entities wishing to file tax exemption forms 990 and 8872 will soon be required to file those forms electronically, rather than on paper as has been historically accepted. While a number of measures have been put into place which will delay the enforceability of this act for nonprofits with asset values beneath certain totals, this law marks a noteworthy shift in tax-exempt organizations’ visibility to the public at large.
The reason for this lies in the fact that the act will require the IRS to make all electronically filed returns from tax-exempt organizations available to the public in the near (yet unspecified) future. With all returns now being electronic, persons wishing to investigate nonprofits will no longer have to endure the unwieldy process of submitting written requests to the IRS, which will in turn significantly speed up how rapidly the desired information can be accessed. Given the recent scandal of the New York Attorney General seeking to dissolve the National Rifle Association over allegations of extreme levels of fraud and misuse of organizational funds, it may well be a good idea to implement a law that will serve to make the financial status of nonprofit organizations increasingly transparent to their members as well as taxpayers at large.
For information regarding the act, see the following link on the IRS’ website: https://www.irs.gov/taxpayer-first-act#:~:text=Generally%2C%20the%20legislation%20aims%20to,and%20enhance%20its%20cyber%20security.
By David A. Brennen, Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky
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
Thursday, June 25, 2020
The Washington Post published an article on donor advised funds yesterday entitled Zombie philanthropy: The rich have stashed billions in donor-advised charities — but it’s not reaching those in need
It's honestly an interesting article though on some matters I had to scratch my head. For instance: "Known in the industry as DAFs (rhymes with calves) — and criticized by some insiders as “zombie philanthropy”.
To my experience, and I consider myself something of an insider to the industry from a regulatory and an observer point of view, I have never heard it pronounced to rhyme with calves -- calf maybe -- but not calves. Additionally, I have never heard it referred to as zombie philanthropy, and I am not sure that this is really apt.
It raises the fact that fairly large resources that they estimate at $120 billion rest within DAF solution while charities themselves are hemorrhaging money and support, resulting in some significant animosity in the charitable world.
The author a little strangely, but interestingly, discusses the thoughts of Norman Sugarman, who passed away long ago but was quite the exempt organization's attorney in his time.
"To Norman Sugarman, a former IRS attorney in Cleveland, this created both concern and opportunity. Sugarman represented community foundations fearful the new law would scare off donors.
“For him, it was important that, no questions asked, these [community foundations] were public charities,” said Lila Corwin Berman, a history professor at Temple University who has written about Sugarman’s role in the popularization of DAFs. “He believed most social problems could be better solved by charity than government, and that individuals should have more control over what their wealth could do for society.”
After successfully convincing the IRS that community foundations deserved public charity status, Sugarman also won an important concession: “philanthropic funds,” an innovative way his clients raised money, would also have all the tax benefits of giving directly to a working charity."
For the particular moment we find ourselves in with a pandemic and a worldwide economic collapse resulting from that Pandemic, I thought the concluding paragraphs were the most interesting:
"When asked about the #HalfMyDaf challenge, Fidelity Charitable President Norley said she and her colleagues had been encouraging their clients to give more since the beginning of the crisis.
“I don’t think you need to set a percentage on this. If somebody wants to donate their entire DAF, that’s great,” she said.
A reporter then presented Norley with a hypothetical: If she learned tomorrow that all of Fidelity’s fund-holders had decided to spend at least half of their DAFs this year, causing her charity’s assets to plummet from more than $21 billion to about $10 billion, would she be happy or dismayed?
“I have no comment on that,” she said."
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
Margaret Ryznar (Indiana) has published Extending the Charitable Deduction Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic in Tax Notes Federal. Here is the abstract:
While the importance of the charitable deduction decreased in the 2017 tax reform, it has returned during the COVID-19 pandemic with the CARES Act. This Article lays out the reasons that the limited above-the-line charitable deduction authorized by Congress during the coronavirus pandemic should remain a permanent feature of U.S. tax law.
Monday, May 11, 2020
Writing in today's Chronicle of Philanthropy, Susan N. Dreyfus and John MacIntosh opine that during the current COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath, many medium-sized nonprofit organizations will not survive unless the federal government provides them more much-needed support. Dreyfus is CEO of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities; MacIntosh is managing partner of SeaChange Capital Partners, an organization that helps nonprofits facing complex financial challenges. In their thought-provoking article in today's Chronicle, they argue that while
[n]onprofits of all kinds provide critical help to communities across the United States, . . . it is the medium-sized ones that make a critical difference — those with at least 500 employees. Their workers operate food pantries, and homeless and domestic-violence shelters. They manage and staff residential facilities for young people with mental illnesses. They offer in-home and residential services for older Americans and people with disabilities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, their work is more urgent than ever.
Yet, the authors state, even as these organizations face various challenges -- challenges as daunting as those faced by their smaller counterparts -- they "are not receiving the government support they need to survive." For example, the "federal Paycheck Protection Program excludes nonprofits with more that 500 employees from obtaining the forgivable loans that would allow them to retain and compensate their employees and continue to deliver essential services during this public-health crisis."
What, then, can we do? As the article points out, at "a time when many nonprofits are at a breaking point, we [cannot] afford to leave those with more than 500 employees out of support programs that are keeping smaller organizations afloat."
According to the article,
A new analysis of New York City’s larger nonprofits found that under normal circumstances, most have just two weeks of cash on hand. Without immediate assistance, the report projects that some won’t survive through May and that few, if any, will be in a position to continue services during the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath. Most of these organizations lack meaningful endowments and have limited access to credit. Their operating margins are razor thin (an average of 1 percent), even before taking into account the reduction in revenue and increase in expenses associated with the pandemic. Most importantly, their philanthropy, which covers less than 5 percent of expenses, cannot make up for a reduction in funding and contracts during the health crisis.
The article continues:
This situation is not unique to New York. A 2018 report on the financial stability of community-based human-services organizations found that 40 percent of the larger nonprofits had less than one month of cash reserves. Those providing housing and shelter-related services faced significantly greater financial stress.
Critics may be quick to argue that the challenges confronting these nonprofits are the result of their own inefficiency and poor management. Not so, argue Dreyfus and MacIntosh. They specifically state that:
The challenges confronting these nonprofits are not the result of inefficiency or poor management. Most government funding and philanthropy traditionally does not cover the full cost of providing services. Government contracts for essential services also create cash-flow problems since, unlike with grants, payments are not made until after the work is completed and can be subject to long and unpredictable delays. Cash, as a consequence, is an ongoing issue. But unlike large for-profits, these organizations do not have access to capital markets, cannot easily unlock illiquid assets, and are unable to use bankruptcy to restructure while continuing to deliver services. Any increase in costs, reduction in revenue, or delay in cash receipts could put some of them permanently over the edge.
So just what is the solution? The authors call for Congressional action:
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.
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
Friday, April 17, 2020
ANSWER FOUND: Why the $300 Above-the-Line Charitable Contribution Is Only Available for Tax Years Beginning in 2020
Thanks to a sharp-eyed reader of this blog (NYU Professor Harvey Dale), I now have the answer to why the $300 above-the-line charitable contribution deduction is only available for contributions made during taxable years beginning in 2020. The relevant section of the CARES Act (2204) adds a paragraph to Internal Revenue Code section 62(a) that says the following (emphasis added):
(22) CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS.—In the case of taxable years beginning in 2020, the amount (not to exceed $300) of qualified charitable contributions made by an eligible individual during the taxable year.”.
So while the effective date language only says "shall apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019," the above quoted language limits the deduction to taxable years beginning in 2020. For the vast majority of individuals, the taxable year that begins in 2020 will be the 2020 calendar year. However, individuals are in some circumstances able to choose a non-calendar fiscal year for tax purposes (see IRS Publication 538, p. 4). So the Joint Committee on Taxation scoring publication was not completely accurate in describing the deduction as "sunset 12/31/20".