With the start of the new year, many of us and our organizations are taking time to plan and prepare for the new challenges and opportunities that will come up in 2018. Here is a list of what we expect will happen, and why it is important for nonprofits to be engaged.
The New Tax Landscape
Much of the energy and focus of the last quarter of 2017 was spent responding to new tax legislation that emphasizes business interests over community investment. And because this bill is built on those flawed priorities, this bill will create long term problems that undermine strong, thriving communities.
Thanks to the work of nonprofits in Minnesota and across the country, attempts to repeal the Johnson Amendment were defeated. However, we do expect to see those opposed to the Johnson Amendment make other attempts to undermine and weaken the Johnson Amendment through appropriations or procedural tactics.
The tax bill also affects charitable giving. Changes in the standard deduction and tax brackets will drastically reduce the amount of charitable giving, by billions. National nonprofit leaders used this as an opportunity to promote a universal deduction for charitable giving, expanding the tax incentives to all tax payers. This unfortunately did not make it into the final bill, and we can expect to see a dip in charitable donations nationally.
Here in Minnesota, we have a non-itemizer deduction that, for now, should help maintain the robust charitable giving our state is known for. However, just because the non-itemizer deduction is in place now, it will be important to make sure those protections continue.
Appropriations & Entitlements
A large portion of funding for nonprofits comes from government grants, meaning appropriations bills are vital to the nonprofit sector.
Congress needs to decide how to spend money for FY 2018. At the end of December, they passed a continuing resolution in order to avoid a shutdown while they finalize appropriations for the year. This continuing resolution will expire January 19th.
One point of contention is the level of defense spending. Proposed levels are above current spending caps, meaning they would trigger sequestration. Republicans would like to suspend the caps in order to increase defense spending, and Democrats are pushing for an equal increase in domestic spending.
In addition to appropriations, we are starting to see moves towards reducing entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, SSDI, and food assistance. While changes to these programs will require different legislation than appropriations, these efforts to weaken the social safety have already begun, seen in strategy documents like the budget resolution passed earlier this year and the stated agenda of Congressional leadership.
It is important for nonprofits to speak up regarding the budget, making sure that there are sufficient appropriations to administer key programs that invest in communities, and the social safety net remains strong.
Immigration Reform & DACA
Last year, when the Department of Justice announced it would no longer honor DACA protections, it gave Congress a deadline to codify those protections into law. That deadline comes up this March. Nonprofits will need to be strong partners in order to assure that immigration policies are equitable and just.
Democracy & Civil Engagement
Nonprofits are at the forefront of voter and civil rights. This role will be especially important with the upcoming elections in 2018. There are many issues that will effect these issues, but we want to highlight a few especially important.
Without net neutrality rules, the internet becomes “pay-to-play” technology where nonprofit organizations may not have access to the same speedy or cost-effective internet. Removing these rules would also hurt the openness of the internet that has allowed for a free flow of information and expression, which are the cornerstones of a healthy democracy.
The census is required by the Constitution, and for good reason. It is the basis of our sharing power in our democracy, and because of that, it is important that the count be fair, accurate, and reliable. Important federal programs used by nonprofits and partner communities rely on accurate census data, as well as representation in government.
Some parts of the country are much more vulnerable to inaccuracies and underreporting. People of color, densely populated urban areas, rural areas, the LGBT community, young children, and non-native English speakers are disproportionately hurt if the Census does not reach them.
Federal judges are being appointed at a very fast rate, some with questionable qualifications. An independent and competent judiciary is vital to maintaining laws and rights that protect citizens and promote participation. Nonprofits are also a large part of what shapes civil society. Making sure judges remain independent and fair minded is a part of our vital work.
Throughout 2018, MCN’s policy team will be tracking these issues, and any other ones that will arise. We will provide information and opportunities for action.