Charity is always necessary

By By Spencer Merrick

By Spencer Merrick

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the economy’s predicament is that as nonprofit organizations spill over with pleas for help, donations trickle in slower to meet the demand.

Although Utah has defied many national trends and stepped up to meet that demand in these past months, charitable donations are still dropping, and are expected to continue to do so. Charity, even in a state known for giving, is all too often constrained by inconvenience.

Many argue that the only solution to this predicament is that giving become convenient, and that there’s nothing, apart from legislation or an economic upturn, that could significantly boost donations. But Utahns have proved time and time again that they’re capable of compensating during hard times. Just this past December, despite nationwide trends and concerns of potentially low donations, Utahns stepped up to the plate and set a Utah Food Bank holiday food drive record of 1.85 million pounds, about 25 percent higher than previous years. But now, with the holiday season gone, many other nonprofit organizations are having to make do with fewer donations. Even some large organizations such as Red Cross are implementing huge layoffs and program cuts. The Boys and Girls Clubs of West Jordan, Murray and Midvale are temporarily closing their doors on Fridays.

State programs have also been hit pretty hard. Despite cries that we needed to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to at least help those “getting the most wet,” Utah lawmakers decided this past legislative session that it wasn’t raining hard enough. As a result, forced budget cuts are slashing through programs like Meals on Wheels and Medicaid. However, Utah isn’t the only state to slice into social services. Programs for the vulnerable have already been cut in at least 34 states. Although President Barack Obama’s stimulus package provided lots of money for things like unemployment insurance, food stamps and expanded tax credits for low-income workers, the money will only compensate for 40 percent of the losses in these programs, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Although Obama’s package helped social services, I think he made a huge blunder in his recent support of a proposal that would reduce tax deductions for charitable contributions from the rich. His plan would drop tax deductions from 35 percent to 28 percent for couples earning more than $250,000 and individuals earning more than $200,000.

I don’t believe that those who donate do so just to get a tax write-off. But a little incentive can go a long way, and with donations already dwindling, the proposal could have been detrimental to a number of programs, especially when you consider that those affected give about $81 billion annually to charities. Luckily, thanks to an amendment to the Budget Resolution proposed by Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, the plan was removed.

Because many corporations are pulling their support of nonprofit organizations as one more measure to stay afloat, Utahns as individuals need to continue to rise up to the challenge and support them, now more than ever. We need to remove the barriers in the way of donations. Thanks to legislators like Bennett, many potential structural barriers are being removed or never implemented. But more important is removing the notion that giving is the responsibility of those who have a lot. If giving poses any sort of inconvenience on us, we become wary. But that defies the very definition of a charitable donation.

Charity is an inconvenience. We can pat ourselves on the back all we want, but giving away what we don’t want isn’t charity, it’s recycling. A stroll through the Deseret Industries shows the difference. I’m amazed by how many things there are utterly unusable, from microwaves that look and act as though they’ve cooked more silverware than food, to irons with burn residue that is only removed by pressing white, collared shirts. It’s as though many people give things to the D.I. because it’s closer than the landfill and there’s no dumping fee. For anything of any worth, we think eBay, not charity.

Even broke college students are capable of giving. For many, it might be a real sacrifice, but we’re not exempt from that responsibility. If a monetary donation is truly not an option, donate time. There are countless organizations in need of volunteers. Let’s continue to open up our hearts and help those in need in any way we can8212;especially if it’s inconvenient.

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Spencer Merrick