Senators Praise Senate Passage of Hurricane Tax Relief Bill
WASHINGTON – The Senate sponsors of tax legislation to help Hurricane Katrina victimstoday praised Senate passage of the measure and said they hope for swift reconciliation with theHouse version and final passage. The Senate passed the bipartisan bill by unanimous consent.
Introduced Tuesday, the bill offers tax relief to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes,restore their possessions, access housing, and find jobs. It also offers a series of charitable giving taxincentives to promote charitable aid for hurricane victims. The bill originated in the Committee onFinance from Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman, and Sen. Max Baucus, ranking member. Original cosponsorsare Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter ofLouisiana, and Richard Shelby of Alabama.
The senators intend for the measure to offer short-term help to hurricane victims and aredeveloping a separate measure to provide long-term tax relief toward the rebuilding and rejuvenationof hurricane-affected areas. Meanwhile, Grassley and Baucus have unveiled a comprehensive healthcare and welfare assistance measure that they hope will attract original co-sponsors and also receivequick Senate approval.
The Senate sponsors of the tax measure approved today made the following comments onthat measure:
Senator Grassley said: “This can’t come fast enough. We need to get these tax incentives onthe books and help people make a fresh start. The Midwest bounced back from the great flood of1993 and the Gulf region will come back, too. With this first initiative from the Finance Committee,and more to come, we want Katrina’s victims to know they can count on us for help in regaining agood quality of life in the Gulf region.”
Senator Baucus said, “I am proud of today’s action taken by the United States Senate toprovide emergency tax relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. In a time when so many have lostso much, it is vital that the government respond aggressively to this unprecedented humanitariancrisis. The specific provisions passed today are intended to help families get back on their feet andassist those that are extending a helping hand. S. 1696 is but the first installment. Additionallegislation is being readied that will facilitate reconstruction, spur economic development andaddress the needs of the working poor."
Senator Cochran said: “This bill is a good first step in getting necessary assistance toindividuals who are suffering economic losses due to Hurricane Katrina. I am pleased to cosponsora bill that provides tax breaks to those in the Gulf region and those who have made financialdonations of assistance.”
Senator Vitter said: “This tax relief package is a good first step toward helping the victimsof Hurricane Katrina keep cash in their own pockets during the time when many families have losteverything, including their jobs. One provision will help families rebuild by allowing victims ofHurricane Katrina to make an early withdrawal from their retirement plans, such as an IRA or a401(k) plan, without a penalty and use this money to rebuild. Other provisions will help withemployment and housing, others will encourage charitable giving, which will help many moreLouisiana families. I will continue to work with the Senate Finance Committee to create real taxincentives that will help evacuees return to Louisiana and rebuild their homes and businesses.”Senator Landrieu said: “This legislation is another step toward providing the assistance thepeople of the Gulf Coast expect and deserve from our federal government. We are proud to standwith any Senator who is willing to support our efforts to recover from this disaster and rebuildSoutheastern Louisiana. I thank the Committee for its swift action and leadership on these issues andlook forward to working with the Committee members as we continue to provide the immediateassistance needed.”
Senator Lott said: “While we will soon pass longer-term incentives to ensure businesses onthe Gulf Coast can rebuild, this package delivers immediate relief to the victims of HurricaneKatrina. Its provisions encourage food donations and the employment of displaced individuals, andallows people to dip into their rainy day funds without penalty to cover short-term costs. It alsoincludes incentives for housing aid, and ensures individuals and businesses who cannot access theirtax records have until next year to file estimated taxes. These important provisions, taken with thebusiness incentives we will soon pass, are an important step towards revitalizing the Gulf Coast. Ithank Chairman Grassley and Senator Baucus for their efforts, and look forward to continuing towork with them on these urgent issues.”
Senator Shelby said: Many in Alabama and across the Gulf Coast suffered tremendously fromHurricane Katrina. While Congress continues to provide immediate relief aid, I believe it is criticalthat we also examine how the tax system can better serve those who have been affected by thisstorm. I am pleased to support this bill as it provides much needed temporary tax relief for bothindividuals and small businesses.”
A summary follows.
SENATE TAX RELIEF PACKAGE
FOR INDIVIDUALS AFFECTED BY HURRICANE KATRINA
1. Discharge of Indebtedness Related to Katrina: Gross income generally includes any amountrealized from the discharge of indebtedness. The proposal would provide to individuals, anexemption for indebtedness discharged by certain lenders when the forgiveness is in response todamage suffered from Hurricane Katrina. Senators Grassley and Baucus believe that those sufferinglosses as a result of the hurricane should not be required to pay tax on benevolent cancellation ofdebts.
2. Early Withdrawals from Retirement Plans: Present law discourages distributions from taxpreferredretirement plans with penalties and other limitations. The proposal would waive the 10%penalty tax for premature distributions from IRAs and qualified retirement plans (including definedbenefit plans, 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans) for individuals whose principal residence is in afederally declared natural disaster area. Individuals eligible for this waiver because of Katrina wouldbe permitted to pay income tax on such distributions ratably over a three-year period. Amountsdistributed could be re-contributed to a qualified retirement plan over the three-year period followingthe distribution date and receive rollover treatment. The waiver of the 10% penalty, 3-year incomeaveraging and recontribution provisions for retirement plan withdrawals will be limited to $100,000per individual. Distributions for home purchases which were not finalized because of HurricaneKatrina could also be re-contributed to a qualified retirement plan or IRA. Limitations on loans fromqualified employer plans would be increased for Hurricane Katrina victims by doubling thethresholds to the lesser of $100,000 or 100% of the individual’s account balance. Payments due fromKatrina victims on qualified plan loans after August 29, 2005, and before August 30, 2006, couldbe deferred, and twelve months could be added to the maximum repayment period of affected loans.Senators Grassley and Baucus recognize that retirement plans are the primary savings for manyindividuals. During major disasters the tax code should not prevent individuals in need fromaccessing their savings.
3. Special Rule for Determining Earned Income: The proposal gives Treasury authority to ensuretaxpayers do not lose deductions, credits or filing status because of dislocations from HurricaneKatrina. The proposal also allows low income working families an election to use prior year incomefor the refundable earned income credit and the child tax credit.Employment
4. Extension of WOTC to Katrina Victims. Under current law, the Work Opportunity Tax Creditallows employers to claim a credit against wages paid to new workers that face barriers toemployment. It applies to special groups such as residents of empowerment zones, TANF-eligiblefamilies, high-risk youth, veterans, SSI beneficiaries, and voc-rehab referrals. The credit max is$2,400 (40% of first year wages up to $6,000, or 25% of wages if less than 400 hours worked). Theproposal establishes an additional category of eligible new workers under the WOTC credit forHurricane Katrina survivors, provided that the worker lived within the disaster zone and becameunemployed as a result of the disaster.- Employers outside the disaster area may hire qualifying employees from the disaster area for oneyear (August 28, 2005, to August 28, 2006).- Employers inside the disaster area may hire qualifying employees from the disaster area for threeyears (August 28, 2005, to August 28, 2008).Hurricane Katrina victims who are willing and able to work will face many hardships includinghomelessness, health problems, and loss of documentation verifying eligibility. The WOTC creditexists to help employees who are currently facing barriers to employment. Hurricane survivors willface a unique set of barriers and need assistance in finding employment.
5. Katrina Disaster Employee Retention Credit. Current law allows employers to deduct the costof salaries paid to employees. This proposal would provide a 40% tax credit for wages paid up to$6,000 if paid after August 28, 2005, and before December 31, 2005, by employers located in thedisaster zone. Also, the employee’s usual and principal place of work must have been in the disasterzone, but the credit is not affected if the employee reports to work at another location. Employersof activated military Reservists and Guards would also be eligible for this credit as many have beenparticipating in a “pay protection” effort. Wages paid to relatives would be ineligible for the credit.Many of these businesses are not operating at all and are tapping into savings to keep their workforcetogether during this tragedy. Senators Grassley and Baucus believe the government should assist theloyal employers who are doing the right thing and keeping their workers on payroll.Housing
6. Incentive for Housing Aid: Current law provides a personal exemption for taxpayers, spouses,and dependents. The deduction amount for 2005 is $3,200. The proposal would provide taxpayerswho house dislocated persons from Hurricane Katrina for a minimum of sixty days in their principalresidences an additional personal exemption of $500 per dislocated person (maximum $2,000deduction). This additional exemption is not eligible for any person already claimed on thetaxpayer’s return and the housing must be provided rent-free. This provision would not affect anydeductions or exemptions due to the dislocated person on his or her tax return. This proposal willhelp defray some of the costs incurred by compassionate neighbors and encourage others to do thesame.
7. Relax Restrictions on Mortgage Revenue Bonds: Mortgage revenue bonds are tax-exemptbonds that state and local governments generally issue through housing finance agencies. Theproceeds from the bonds are used to fund below-market interest rate mortgages for certain first-timehomebuyers meeting income and purchase price restrictions. Senators Grassley and Baucus believethat it is important to support home ownership in the area impacted by Katrina. The proposal wouldprovide greater access to mortgage revenue bond proceeds by lifting the first-time homeownerrequirement and relaxing the purchase price and income limitations for homes in the area damagedby Katrina for the three years following the disaster.Charitable Giving; Taxpayer Assistance and Protection
8. Encourage Food Donations by Businesses: The proposal provides an enhanced deduction fordonations of food inventory for businesses through December 31, 2005. Under present law, ataxpayer’s deduction for charitable contributions of inventory generally is limited to the taxpayer’sbasis (typically cost) in the inventory. However, for contributions of food inventory, C corporationsmay claim an enhanced deduction equal to the lesser of (1) basis plus one-half of the item’sappreciated value (i.e., basis plus one half of fair market value in excess of basis) or (2) two timesbasis. The proposal would allow all taxpayers to claim an enhanced deduction for donations of foodinventory equal to the lesser of fair market value or twice basis. Senators Baucus and Grassley wantto encourage farmers, ranchers, food producers, and sellers to donate surplus food inventory duringthis period when so many are relying on assistance.
9. Encourage Book Donations by Businesses: The proposal provides an enhanced deduction fordonations of book inventory through December 31, 2005. Under present law, taxpayers may claiman enhanced deduction equal to the lesser of (1) basis plus one-half of the item’s appreciated value(i.e., basis plus one half of fair market value in excess of basis) or (2) two times basis for donationsof book inventory. The proposal would allow taxpayers to claim an enhanced deduction fordonations of book inventory equal to the lesser of fair market value or twice basis. Senators Baucusand Grassley understand that with the influx of many dislocated children in the wake of hurricaneKatrina, many schools across the country lack the supplies they need to handle the additional studentpopulation. This proposal is intended to encourage donations of books to schools and othereducational programs during this period.
10. IRA Charitable Rollover: The provision would exclude from gross income otherwise taxableIndividual Retirement Account (IRA) withdrawals from a traditional or a Roth IRA for qualifiedcharitable distributions. Under the provision, taxpayers who are 70½ and older would be allowed torollover amounts from their IRA accounts directly to a qualified charitable organization on a tax-freebasis. In addition, the provision allows taxpayers aged 59½ and older to transfer IRA funds to acharitable remainder trust and give a remainder trust and give a remainder interest in the trust tocharity without tax consequence. Senators Baucus and Grassley believe that removing obstacles fortaxpayers to donate their IRAs to charity during this difficult period will provide an importantincentive to give to charities. The provision would be effective through December 31, 2005.
11. Corporate Charitable Contributions: The amount allowed as a charitable deduction for acorporation in any taxable year may not exceed ten percent of the corporation’s taxable income. Theproposal would temporarily increase the percentage limitation to fifteen percent of the corporation’staxable income for one taxable year ending on or before December 31, 2006.
12. Individual Income Limits for Cash Contributions: The proposal raises the permitted cashcontribution level for individuals from fifty percent to sixty percent of adjusted gross income for taxyears ending on or before December 31, 2005.
13. Encourage IRS Information-sharing with State Charity Officials: This proposal allows theIRS to disclose to appropriate state officials information regarding organizations for which the IRShas denied or revoked tax-exempt status or certain other actions the IRS may have taken.Unfortunately, there have already been numerous news reports of scam artists creating fraudulentcharities to take advantage of Americans who want to help the victims of Katrina. Senators Grassleyand Baucus want to ensure that the IRS and state officials are working closely together to combatfraudulent charitable organizations taking advantage of a generous public.
14. Taxpayer Assistance: To ensure that families and businesses receive the full benefit of theseproposed tax relief provisions, it is vital that the IRS be able to provide significant taxpayerassistance to those affected and to administer effectively the tax relief provisions proposed today.Some of these provisions encourage charitable giving, allow taxpayers to access retirement fundswithout penalty, and expand the availability of tax-exempt bonds for rebuilding homes. In addition,the IRS is expediting reviews of applications from new organizations seeking tax-exempt status aswell as requests from donors seeking to verify an organization’s tax-exempt status. This proposaldedicates all fees from employee plan and exempt organization letter rulings and determinationletters to IRS for its own disaster recovery, tax relief administration and assistance and foradministration of tax-exempt entities and charitable donations. Current law provides that only aportion of these fees are dedicated for the use of the IRS.
15. Increased Mileage Rate for Calculating Charitable Contribution Mileage Deduction: Themileage rate individuals may use to compute a tax deduction for personal vehicle expensesassociated with charitable work is statutory and has not been increased since 1997. This proposal setsthe charitable mileage rate at sixty percent of the standard business mileage rate that is determinedperiodically by the Internal Revenue Service. Making the rate flexible by linking it to the businessrate takes fluctuations in gas prices into account and will encourage charitable activity.
16. Casualty Loss Provision. Under present law, non-business casualty losses are deductible bytaxpayers who itemize only to the extent they exceed ten percent of adjusted gross income and a onehundreddollar floor. In some circumstances, taxpayers are permitted to include a current-yearcasualty loss on an amended prior year return. The proposal eliminates the ten percent floor forcasualty losses incurred in the Hurricane Katrina disaster area, including those claimed on amendedreturns. Removing the floor will result in increased loss deductions and the amended return optionwill get money to the victims much sooner, helping them to get back on their feet.
17. Section 1033(h) Involuntary Conversions. Present law allows taxpayers not to recognize gainwith respect to homes that are damaged or destroyed as a result of a presidentially declared disasterif the taxpayer replaces the property within a four-year period. Business property that is destroyedmust be replaced within a two-year period to avoid gain recognition. The proposal extends thereplacement period to five years for a taxpayer to purchase property to replace property that wasdamaged or destroyed within the presidentially declared disaster area for Katrina. The extendedreplacement period applies to principal residences and business property.
18. IRS Administrative Relief: The Internal Revenue Code authorizes the Secretary to extenddeadlines for up to one year to file tax returns and to make payments and deposits for income, estateand gift taxes. Employment taxes are specifically excluded and excise taxes are not specificallyincluded. The IRS issued a notice for victims of Katrina extending the time period until January 3,2006, to file any returns, pay any taxes or make any deposits due. Although this is intended to applyto employment and excise taxes, it is unclear that the IRS has the authority to do so. This proposalextends the deadlines until February 28, 2006, and clarifies that the extension includes employmentand excise taxes in addition to income, estate and gift taxes. Penalties and interest that wouldotherwise apply are waived.
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