WASHINGTON (AP) — Taxpayers will be able to write off charitable donations to Haiti earthquake relief efforts when they file their 2009 taxes this spring, under a bill that received final congressional approval Thursday.
The Senate passed the bill on a voice vote Thursday, sending it to President Barack Obama for his expected signature. Obama has enlisted two former presidents — George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — to help raise money for quake victims.
Under current law, donors would have to wait until they file their 2010 returns next year to take the deductions. The bill would allow donations made by the end of February to be deducted from 2009 returns.
Lawmakers hope the accelerated tax break will encourage more donations. U.S. residents have already donated millions, with the American Red Cross collecting more than $127 million since the Jan. 12 quake.
“Americans have shown remarkable generosity,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the tax-writing Finance Committee. “These are tough economic times but millions still want to give. This is the American spirit. It is who we are, as Americans.”
Last week’s quake killed an estimated 200,000 people in Haiti, left 250,000 injured and made 1.5 million homeless, according to the European Union Commission. A powerful aftershock caused even more damage Wednesday.
“We all need to do our part,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “This is a creative way for Congress to support relief efforts that are ongoing in Haiti.”
The bill was passed by the House on a voice vote Wednesday, meaning no member of Congress opposed it. A similar law was enacted in 2005 for donations to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that happened in December 2004.
The Haiti bill is projected to encourage enough donations to reduce tax payments by a total of $2 million, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. The tax bill also makes it easier for people who use mobile phones to make donations to document their gifts.
The Red Cross has received about $24 million from people making $10 donations by texting the word “Haiti” to the number 90999 from their mobile phones. Donors would be able to use their phone bills to document their gifts, as long as the bills list the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution.
“Americans give generously to disaster relief, and I hope this extension will encourage them to give even more,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Finance Committee. “I also hope Americans will make sure the charities they choose are above board. People should be careful to give only to groups they recognize and trust.”