United States residents who donated to the relief effort in Haiti will be rewarded this spring when they file their income taxes.
A measure recently approved by Congress and signed by President Obama will allow them to write off those charitable donations on their 2009 taxes. Under current law, those donations would have had to be filed under the 2010 return.
Since the Jan. 12 quake, Americans have donated millions to the humanitarian effort, including $203 million collected so far by the American Red Cross.
“It’s clear the people of Haiti need our help – and millions upon millions of dollars are rolling in; from Billings to Buffalo, even though times are tough at home. It’s at the heart of what makes us American and it make me very proud. I know Americans will continue to open their hearts and their wallets to help ease suffering in Haiti…,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and co-sponsor of the legislation in a statement after the bill was passed.
In an e-mailed comment, the senator said this type of incentive has been successfully used before to encourage giving in the wake of a tragedy.
“This bill is a clear signal Americans want to help Haiti battle back from crisis,” Baucus said. “This tax provision, which was successful following the tsunami tragedy in Indonesia, makes it easier for folks to give to designated relief efforts in Haiti and deduct those contributions on this year’s tax return. This small but important step will help the people of Haiti in the rescue and rebuilding of their struggling nation."
Specifically, the Haiti Assistance Income Tax Incentive Act allows taxpayers to count cash donations to Haitian relief efforts made between Jan. 11 and March 1 as if they made by Dec. 31 of last year.
The Act is among a suite of measures meant to ease the nation’s suffering. And California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters would add one more—complete forgiveness of Haiti’s international debt. Waters, like many of her Congressional Black Caucus colleagues, has been a leader of efforts to help Haiti both before the earthquake and since.
"What has really resonated with me since returning home is the need for the international community to engage in robust and sustained recovery and rebuilding efforts for Haiti,” said Congresswoman Waters in a recent statement following a trip to Haiti.
“I plan to double my efforts to assist Haiti in Washington,” she added. “In addition to introducing legislation to completely cancel Haiti’s debt from multilateral financial institutions and other international creditors, I will work closely with former President and UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and my colleagues in Congress to continue to pursue creative and substantive ways to assist the country during its immediate time of need and in the months and years ahead.”
In her three-day mission to the country, the congresswoman visited a number of the makeshift hospitals and refugee camps circling Port-au-Prince and met with Haitian President René Préval; officials from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Department of Defense; representatives from the United Nations (UN) and the World Food Programme (WFP) and staff from numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). She said the level of destruction made the situation a “logistical nightmare.”
“Words cannot adequately describe the ongoing humanitarian disaster that is unfolding in Haiti,” said Waters. “The earthquake has left behind untold levels of death, despair, and outright destitution.”
But the outpouring of aid has been a balm to a beleaguered people, she added.
“The outpouring of initial support from the international community has been so heartfelt and overwhelming, and I know that the Haitian people are extremely grateful. I am pleading with every individual, NGO, corporation, and government worldwide to continue to look into their hearts, into their schedules and into their wallets to find out how they can help.”