Rabbi Saperstein: “Our progressive tax code allows us to not only meet immediate need while simultaneously reducing our deficits, but also to begin to address the astounding growth in inequality.”
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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 30, 2013 – As the Senate Finance Committee began a serious discussion of tax reform led by Chairman Max Baucus and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent the letter below to Senators reflecting on key provisions in the tax code that ensure progressivity, including the EITC, charitable deduction, estate tax and parsonage exemption. The full text of the letter follows:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes over 2000 Reform Rabbis, I write to urge you to ensure that tax reform does not increase poverty or inequality in our country. In response to Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch’s invitation for input into tax reform, I encourage you to write a letter emphasizing some of the most important and effective anti-poverty measures that are embedded in the tax code, including the EITC, charitable deduction, estate tax and parsonage exemption.
I encourage you to ensure that tax reform raises enough revenue to reduce the deficit while at the same time meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities. Rashi, a medieval Jewish philosopher, wrote commentary on Leviticus 25:35: “If your fellow becomes impoverished and his hand (assets) becomes shaky among you, you must support him.” Rashi says: “Do not allow him to decline and fall, it will be difficult to restore him but strengthen him from the time of his weakness.” The tax code is a vital and effective anti-poverty tool in our country. It helps struggling families pull themselves out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.
Especially important to preserving our social safety net and increasing equality is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Last year the EITC lifted an estimated 6.6 million people out of poverty. These struggling families have greater access to the necessities of life because of this program. The EITC not only has the immediate effect of ameliorating poverty, but also has been shown to encourage work, improve children’s health and increase children’s earnings once they reach adulthood. As the conversations on tax reform proceed, I urge you to ensure that the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet are not left out of the conversation. Please ensure that the EITC is preserved in tax reform.
The private sector often helps those in need who fall through the cracks of the public system. The charitable deduction encourages individuals to increase their giving, helping nonprofits do the vital work that benefits communities and people across America. Studies show that for every $1 claimed through the deduction, the public sees around $3 in benefits. The charitable deduction allows individuals to give back to their communities, reinvesting the money in critical programs that help families on the ground. I urge you to ensure that the current charitable deduction is preserved.
Along with the charitable deduction, the estate tax provides a vital incentive for charitable giving. Shrinking the estate tax would weaken this incentive, likely leading to a decrease in charitable donations. I urge you to ensure that a meaningful estate tax continues.
The parsonage exemption frees our nation’s diverse religious communities to perform beneficial community work while respecting religious liberty. Most religious communities have structured their salaries around the parsonage exemption for generations, allowing religious entities to carry out their core functions, often embodying successful models of social services that supplement government programs and serve the neediest in their communities. Frequently clergy are at the beck and call of the church, face restrictions as to where they can live and use their homes as centers of church life. I urge you to ensure that the parsonage exemption is preserved.
We are inspired by the biblical commandment, “gather as much of it as each of you needs” – no more and no less (Exodus 16:16). Our progressive tax code allows us to not only meet immediate need while simultaneously reducing our deficits, but also to begin to address the astounding growth in inequality. I urge you to write a letter to Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch reiterating the need for these effective anti-poverty tools in our tax system.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel”