The $2 trillion “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act,” which was unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate has been designed to cover various sectors of American society, including families, businesses, and nonprofits and educational institutions.
“This legislation is complex in scope and detail, with ramification for individuals and institutions in the community,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director and Counsel said. “It is important to break down and closely analyze the elements of this bill, those favorable and perhaps not so favorable.”
Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the advocacy arm of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, worked with the administration, congressional leaders and other faith-based organizations to help craft the stimulus legislation to help families, religious entities and charitable institutions within the community that are expected to be hard hit by the financial consequences.
The package provide for “direct cash payments” to American households. Checks will be in the amount of $1,200 for single filers with incomes up to $75,000 and $2,400 for joint filers with incomes of up to $150,000, with phase-outs once these thresholds have been met. In addition, payments will include $500 per child. As Orthodox Jewish families are often large, this form of assistance was seen as important source of support.
In addition to provisions covering businesses, a major focus of advocacy was to provide relief to the many nonprofits that will be negatively impacted by the pandemic. Community charities will be looked upon to address many societal needs, which will tightly stretch budgets especially at a time of diminishing contributions.
The bill expressly includes charitable nonprofits in the assistance it offers vulnerable industries. It also broadens the scope of nonprofits eligible to receive loans, while also removing some restrictive conditions. Moreover, a modest above-the-line “charitable deduction” will be available to non-itemizers, as well as itemizers, and will be made permanent.
Orthodox Union President Mark (Moishe) Bane said, “More attention can and must be focused by Washington on America’s charities, which are already being strained by reduced donations at a time the demand is so great, and will continue to grow as this pandemic worsens. The charitable sector can, and will continue to help to those who depend on us – whether for social welfare services, education, health or spiritual sustenance.”
Already financially-strapped yeshivos and day schools within the community will likely feel the full brunt of the economic downturn, priority was given to ensure that religious and private schools were to be treated equitably with public schools in whatever programs and benefits were to be made to America’s education sector. The Senate negotiators explicitly required local school districts to provide “equitable services” to students and teachers in non-public schools, “as determined in consultation with representatives of non-public schools.”
The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center joined charities nationwide in sending a letter to Congress requesting a dedicated $60 billion fund to help the nonprofit charitable sector continue to serve as frontline responders in their communities. They also also asked for a robust incentive for Americans to increase their charitable donations in these difficult times through an “above the line” tax deduction of at least $8,000 (for married couples). Without a dramatic financial and programmatic backstop from the federal government, the nation’s nonprofits and those we serve face a precipitous decline in mission services at a time when our efforts are in dire need.
“Clearly, we will need further legislation to address the manifold and diverse challenges we will confront as a result of the pandemic.” Rabbi Cohen said. “But this was a critical step forward and Agudath Israel expresses its deep appreciation” to the Senate and Administration leaders who listened to and answered the concerns of the Orthodox community.