The Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (care) act recently passed in the Senate. This is a victory for President George W. Bush’s armies of compassion. The bill owes much of its success to the joint cooperation and hard work of both Democrats and Republicans. It has been cosponsored by 23 senators and endorsed by more than 1,600 grassroots organizations.
The CARE Act taps into America’s renewed spirit of unity, community, and responsibility in the wake of the September 11 attacks. This ground-breaking proposal, which I introduced in the Senate with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), builds on the president’s faith-based initiative launched in January 2001. The bill seeks to harness the potential of charitable organizations in order to help the federal government provide social welfare services to the neediest members of our society.
Charitable organizations are uniquely American and form the backbone of civil society. After the terrorist attacks, these organizations proved how effective and indispensable they are in meeting real human needs. However, the CARE Act attempts to resolve the current crisis that charitable organizations are facing. As a result of the tragic events of September 11, numerous charitable organizations are suffering financial losses—in some cases, up to 20 percent or more. In responding to September 11, many Americans have diverted their giving away from traditional charities like feeding the poor and helping the homeless and are exclusively focusing on contributing to organizations that help the victims of the terrorist attacks.
The CARE Acts seeks to rectify this problem through a number of expanded tax incentives. Individuals who do not itemize on their tax returns will receive a charitable tax deduction of $250, while couples will receive $500. This provision finally begins to rectify the discrimination two-thirds of Americans experience by not being allowed to itemize on their returns. The legislation allows for tax-free distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) when savings are donated for charitable purposes.
The legislation also attempts to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Up to 300,000 low-income Americans will be encouraged to save and build assets through Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). These special savings accounts offer matching contributions from a sponsoring bank or community organization and will be reimbursed by a tax credit on the condition that the proceeds go to buying a home, starting a business, or paying for post-secondary education. Low-income Americans will finally be able to share in the American dream.
Furthermore, the bill helps smaller faith and community-based organizations by providing them with additional resources. Through a compassion capital fund, social service agencies are given the opportunity to help these struggling charities with time-consuming and complicated administrative tasks such as grant writing and incorporation. This provision will help smaller faith-based communities survive and grow into viable charitable organizations.
America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. With great wealth comes great responsibility. We must serve those less fortunate than ourselves and help them pursue their dreams. The CARE Act harnesses our civic virtue for the good of society. According to Pope John Paul II in Sollicitudio Rei Socialis, solidarity is a Christian virtue that has a moral and social attitude: “Solidarity helps us to see the ‘other’—whether a person, people, or nation—not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our ‘neighbor,’ a ‘helper’ (Genesis 2:18-20), to be made a sharer on par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.” In this way, we will respect the universal destination of goods. More importantly, by seeing our neighbor made in the image and likeness of God, we will truly have compassion for one another and respect the dignity of every person.
This CARE Act advances our common interest in turning the immense spirit of volunteerism and civic duty in our country toward building strong communities. Its ultimate goal is to help those most in need—the poor, the hopeless, and the destitute. As President Bush stated at the National Prayer Breakfast, “In service to others we find deep human fulfillment, and as acts of service are multiplied, our nation becomes a more welcoming place for the weak, and a better place for those who suffer and grieve.”