Category archives: Economics

How Federal Coronavirus Legislation Will Impact Your Family (Part 3)

by Connor Semelsberger

April 1, 2020

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Despite many speedbumps, and several self-inflicted roadblocks—including House Democrat attempts to pass their ideological wish list—members of Congress from both sides of the aisle eventually came together to pass the most recent coronavirus relief bill. On Friday, March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law H.R. 748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is the third phase of coronavirus response legislation. This $2 trillion law is the largest relief package ever passed by Congress, demonstrating the powerful forces unleashed by the coronavirus and drastic congressional response—including from some typically fiscally conservative members. Indeed, we are facing a public health and economic emergency of the likes most of us have never seen. Here is a look at how this legislation will impact you and your family.

Direct Payments

The signature policy in the CARES Act, first proposed by the Trump administration, is a tax rebate that will be sent directly to families to help cover essential costs during this crisis. As a result of this bill, all Americans with an annual income of $75,000 or less will receive a direct payment of $1,200. For married couples with an income of $150,000 or less, this payment will double to $2,400. Families with dependent children will also receive an additional $500 per child. This policy was also adapted from a previous draft, to provide the full $1,200 rebate to those with little or no income. If you are someone who makes over the $75,000 threshold, you will still be eligible for a partial rebate. This rebate will be reduced by $5 for every $100 over the cap and will be completely phased out at incomes of $99,000 and above.

The great news is, if you have filed a previous tax return, there is no action required to receive the rebate. For Americans who have already filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS will rely on those returns to determine eligibility. If you have not filed for 2019, they will use 2018 returns. Even though the president signed the bill on Friday, the earliest families can expect to see these rebates is in three or four weeks, according to some estimates. The rebate will be sent via direct deposit if the IRS has that information from a tax return. If the IRS does not have direct deposit information, it will mail a physical check, which may take a few weeks longer to arrive.

Sending tax rebates directly to Americans is not something unique to the current situation. During the 2008 recession, President George W. Bush issued tax rebates of $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples to help stimulate the economy. The tax rebates in the CARES Act are not only higher than in 2008 but will be sent out much sooner due to the IRS’s ability to work through logistics faster. This policy cements and incentivizes family structure, as there is no penalty on married couples, giving them double the individual amounts. It also functions as an additional child tax credit, giving more money for each child a family has. For the average family of four, this tax rebate will equate to a $3,400 check providing immediate financial help.

For those with a greater financial strain, who may need to draw from their retirement funds, there is additional help. As done in previous emergencies, if someone withdraws no more than $100,000 from their retirement account for coronavirus-related reasons, the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty is waived. The taxes that would otherwise be collected on that withdrawal can be paid out over the next three years.

Unemployment Insurance

In addition to the rebate checks, the CARES Act provides $250 billion to expand unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. This program will provide extended financial assistance, enabling those without work to make monthly payments for food, rent, and other necessities. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed and provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment for those who remain unemployed beyond the weeks provided by the state.

Another valuable expansion is that all recipients of unemployment insurance will get an additional $600 a week beginning in April and lasting for the next four months. This addition was not without controversy, as several Senate Republicans objected to this addition because of the potential for a perverse incentive for those who might make more on unemployment insurance than they would by working. Ultimately, given the negotiating dynamics and tight timeline, this provision was not fixed. Looking to pass this bill quickly, the Trump administration was willing to accept this provision, and the bill passed the Senate with unanimous support.

To view your state’s unemployment policy and apply for unemployment insurance, go to this helpful database provided by the Department of Labor.

Housing Assurance

In a public health crisis that requires families to remain quarantined in their homes, it is critical that current housing situations remain secure. For families who own a home and make mortgage payments, the CARES Act prohibits foreclosures on any federally-backed mortgages for 60 days. It allows borrowers affected by the coronavirus to push off any missed payments to the end of their mortgage with no added penalties or interest. To help families who make rent payments, it halts evictions for those renting from properties with federally-backed mortgages for 120 days. The Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided guidance for how homeowners and renters can respond to financial hardships.

Dr. Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will coordinate these federal housing policies. He has been a vocal leader throughout the coronavirus outbreak, promoting faith and families. On March 20, Secretary Carson joined President Trump and Vice President Pence on an FRC conference call to pray with 800 pastors. On the call, Secretary Carson reminded the pastors that despite the uncertainty facing our country, God’s hand is guiding us.

Education Policies

The coronavirus outbreak has affected education across the country in many ways. Many schools have been directed to close their doors, replacing in-person classes with at home and online learning. Because of these changing dynamics, the CARES Act waives the federal testing requirements that students take in a typical school year. It also provides additional funding for K-12 schools to adapt to at home-learning and gives increased flexibility for how grants can be used for technology and other actions needed to adapt to the coronavirus situation. Private schools can also access these additional funds.

Many parents today also face the challenge of balancing student loan payments with other essential payments like rent and food expenses. To ease the financial burden of making student loan payments, the CARES Act suspends federal student loan payments for the next six months, and no interest will accrue on federal loans during these six months. The Department of Education has more information on which federal loans qualify and how these policies will be implemented.

The coronavirus’s impact on the public health and the economic stability of or country is something not seen for nearly a century. President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force have taken strong actions to slow the spread of the virus and protect the health of many. However, the crisis has resulted in unintended financial burdens on many families across the country. Members of Congress and the Trump administration worked together to negotiate a strong economic response that truly puts families first—a welcome sight in the typically-rancorous partisan political environment on Capitol Hill. The FRC team continues to engage members of Congress and the administration to ensure that faith, family, and freedom will remain protected even as our country responds to the coronavirus.

For more on how the coronavirus relief legislation specifically benefits churches and nonprofits, see our blog here.

How the Coronavirus Relief Bills Benefit Churches and Other Nonprofits

by Travis Weber , Connor Semelsberger

March 27, 2020

There has been much discussion recently about the “Phase 3” coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 748, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act. Passed by the Senate on March 25, passed by the House on March 27, and signed into law by President Trump on the same day, the CARES Act is designed to provide broad-based economic relief and funding in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. While some of the headline-grabbing sections of this bill address health care supplies and financial assistance for large corporations, several key provisions directly assist nonprofit organizations, including churches.

Direct Loans to Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Churches

One of the major sections of the CARES Act is the $350 billion Payment Protection Program, which creates federally-guaranteed loans (operated by the Small Business Administration (or “SBA”)) to small businesses and other entities (including nonprofit organizations) to cover eight weeks of necessary expenses. To be eligible for these loans, the entity must have fewer than 500 employees, or the number designated as “standard” for its specific field—whatever is greater. Including entities in this manner will result in many small businesses and nonprofits being covered by these loan provisions.

For purposes of these loans, the CARES Act defines an eligible nonprofit organization as “an organization that is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and that is exempt from taxation under section 501(a) of such Code.” Under IRS guidance, this generally includes churches—even if they have not registered with the IRS—as long as they meet 501(c)(3) requirements that:

  • They are organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific or other charitable purposes;
  • Net earnings do not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder;
  • No substantial part of their activity may be attempting to influence legislation; and they do not intervene in political campaigns; and
  • Their purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.

Under the CARES Act, limitations that the SBA places on loans to religious entities (including a requirement that religious entities show they are not principally engaged in teaching, instructing, counseling, or indoctrinating religion or religious beliefs) are waived. As long as the church or nonprofit was operational and paying salaries and payroll taxes on February 15th, 2020, it is eligible for these loans.

Ian Speir, an attorney whose clients at Nussbaum Speir Gleason PLLC include numerous churches and nonprofits, agrees, telling us it would be constitutionally problematic to exclude churches in light of recent Supreme Court decisions, which clarify that generally available public benefits can’t exclude religious organizations who are otherwise eligible. Speir also noted his agreement that churches are included within the CARES Act’s definition of “nonprofit organizations.”

Under the CARES Act, the maximum loan an organization can receive is based on a calculation that will come out to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll, or $10 million, whichever amount is less.

If an organization uses the loan to cover payroll costs, health care benefits and premiums, employee salaries, mortgage or rent payments, or any other interest payments, the loan will be forgiven. There are also provisions for waiving borrower fees and other collateral and credit requirements, as well as automatic deferrals of any payments for six months.

There are also incentives for organizations to keep employees on the payroll. The total amount forgiven will be reduced if the employer lays off any employees or reduces employee pay more than 25 percent during the loan term. The program also encourages organizations to rehire any employee already laid off by not adding any penalties for those employees brought back onto the payroll. So, if the organization certifies with the lender that it used the loan for the appropriate expenses, the loan will act as a federal grant with no need to pay any amount back. If the organization does not use the loan for appropriate expenses, it must pay back outstanding funds with an interest rate of 4 percent.

To help stop the spread of the coronavirus, local and state authorities are restricting large gatherings, causing many churches and religious organizations not to meet in person, which can cause financial setbacks for them. We are also aware that churches and nonprofits are suffering operationally through no fault of their own, creating significant financial strain. If that is the case with your organization, you may benefit from this new loan program meant to help cover payroll and other essential costs for the next eight weeks.

We recognize not every entity may seek to avail themselves of these loans, but they are there for those who wish to do so. The goal is not increased dependence on the government, but rather temporary assistance that can serve as a lifeboat through unexpected shock. In all this, we want to ensure that churches and religious organizations are not discriminated against, but rather are treated fairly and allowed access to any programs that nonreligious organizations can participate in. The coronavirus has affected all of us—religious and nonreligious alike.

The SBA should soon be adding more helpful information to their website on how to access this relief, but in the meantime, Senator Rubio has a good FAQ sheet with information on how to apply for these loans, available here.

Incentivizing Giving to Churches and Nonprofits

Now more than ever, churches and other charitable organizations need donations in order to meet immediate needs related to the coronavirus outbreak. But simultaneously, many Americans face financial hardship due to job loss, limited working hours, or increased medical costs. Such hardships may lead to a decline in charitable donations. By creating additional tax incentives for charitable contributions, the Phase 3 coronavirus relief package seeks to encourage Americans to continue giving throughout the crisis.

Under the CARES Act, charitable contributions up to $300 can be deducted above and beyond the standard deduction on annual tax returns. This new policy will help offset the negative impact on charitable giving precipitated by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which simplified and raised the standard deduction to $12,000. This change caused many tax filers to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing their charitable contributions. During negotiations on the CARES Act, the FRC team worked alongside allied organizations to increase the total amount of tax-deductible donations. While the $300 amount was not raised, this new level may apply to tax years 2020 and beyond, leading to more incentive for charitable giving going forward.

Finally, reducing charitable giving limits for those who itemize deductions on their tax return is another positive incentive put in place by the CARES Act. The cap limiting charitable contribution deductions to 50 percent of a person’s income has been lifted for the 2020 taxable year. This policy also raises the limit on corporate deductions from 10 percent of taxable income to 25 percent and raises limits on food inventory donations from 15 percent to 25 percent.

Unemployment Insurance Assistance for Those Working for Nonprofits

In addition to the $1,200 one-time rebate checks for many Americans, the CARES Act expands unemployment insurance to help those who are without work because of the coronavirus outbreak. This bill creates a temporary Pandemic Unemployment Program that will run through the end of the year. The program provides unemployment benefits for those who do not usually qualify, including religious workers, the self-employed, independent contractors, and those with limited work history. It also covers the first week of lost wages in states that do not cover the first week a person is unemployed.

While most churches are not subject to unemployment insurance, some nonprofits should be aware of this new policy in case they need to lay off or have already laid off employees who may claim unemployment insurance. Fortunately, there is language in this bill to help nonprofits cover some of these costs. H.R. 748 provides payments to states to reimburse nonprofits that are not a part of their state’s unemployment system, reimbursing for half of the costs the nonprofits incur to pay unemployment benefits. Unlike other employers, nonprofits have the option to pay state unemployment insurance taxes or reimburse the state only for the benefits paid to former employees who collect unemployment insurance. The U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Unemployment Insurance and individual states provide more detailed information on how unemployment insurance programs operate.

Paid Medical and Sick Leave Requirements that May Implicate Nonprofits and Churches

In addition to the Phase 3 bill being discussed here, President Donald Trump signed the Phase 2 coronavirus relief bill, H.R. 6201, on March 18th, 2020. While this bill included new paid medical and sick leave requirements designed to benefit employees but which may place requirements on nonprofits, the Phase 3 bill provides for some ways to cover these expenses. The Labor Department recently released initial guidelines for these paid medical and sick leave mandates, and will provide further regulations in April 2020.

First, H.R. 6201 expands the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) by including increased leave protection for employees who are unable to work or telework because they need to care for a child whose school or childcare facility was closed due to the coronavirus. Under this expansion, employers are not required to pay the employee during the first 10 days of leave, but the employer has to pay for remaining leave time up to $200 per day.

Separate from the FMLA change described above, the Phase 2 relief bill establishes an emergency paid sick leave program that requires employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees that cannot work or telework because of the coronavirus. Employees are only entitled to this mandatory sick leave if they are: having coronavirus symptoms, have been advised to self-quarantine, subject to a government quarantine, or caring for someone with coronavirus symptoms. The total amount of paid leave is equal to two-thirds the employee’s regular wages, whether salary or hourly work, and is capped at $511 a day. Both leave requirements will expire at the end of the year.

Providing paid leave during an uncertain financial situation can be difficult for some churches and nonprofits. The cost for the above two policy changes fall on employers, but there are ways for employers to alleviate the financial burden, as described below:

  • These mandates apply only to employers with fewer than 500 employees. H.R. 6201 also provides the Secretary of Labor with the ability to exclude organizations with fewer than 50 employees if providing the paid leave would jeopardize the viability of the organization.
  • If an organization has more than 50 employees or is not excluded from the Department of Labor’s waiver for other reasons, the Phase 3 coronavirus relief bill creates advanceable credits to help cover paid leave. These credits are a dollar for dollar reimbursement for all wages paid under these new requirements. The tax credits also apply to costs incurred to maintain health insurance coverage.
  • An organization can also apply for the Payment Protection Program loans previously mentioned that are designed to help nonprofits cover payroll costs, health care benefits during periods of paid medical and sick leave, and employee salaries.

Encouraging and Aiding the Church’s Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

The CARES Act also recognizes how important churches and local community organizations are to providing food and other needs during this crisis. To increase state grants for these types of services, this bill provides an additional $1 billion for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG). This grant is given to the states so they can partner with local community organizations to lower poverty, address homelessness, and provide services addressing unemployment, education, nutrition, and health. This is a grant program that churches and religious organizations can access, as the law explicitly states religious organizations must be treated the same as other nongovernmental organizations when applying for these grants. Churches in several states have partnered with community organizations or received these grants themselves to operate food banks and other key services.

Churches and other nonprofit organizations have played a critical role in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Americans affected by the coronavirus. During Senate negotiations over how best to respond to the economic hardships our country is facing, the FRC team worked to ensure that churches and other religious groups were not left behind and were instead recognized as organizations vital to the coronavirus relief effort—and we will continue to do so going forward.

Valuing Life, Economic Productivity, and Human Flourishing in the Age of Coronavirus

by Quena Gonzalez

March 27, 2020

At this writing, every governor has issued an emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus and almost all are recommending or requiring that non-essential businesses be temporarily closed. This is, predictably, wrecking havoc on the economy; weekly jobless claims have shot up to a record 3.3 million. For policymakers committed to protecting human life and promoting human flourishing, this raises a dilemma: How do we balance protecting human life (by slowing the spread of the virus) with promoting human flourishing (by avoiding unnecessarily crippling those same people economically)?

The concern for human life is real: The current data suggests that the novel coronavirus is much more contagious than, say, the seasonal flu, which the CDC estimates caused nearly half a million hospitalizations and more than 34,000 deaths in the 2018-2019 flu season. We’ve all seen the government warnings about the coronavirus, that the most at-risk populations include people aged 65 years or older and people with underlying medical conditions.

But the concern about human flourishing is real, too: We are called to work, and we are commanded to provide for our families, to care for the poor, and to contribute financially to the work of the church. Forbidding wide swaths of the workforce from working has spiritual as well as economic implications. Furthermore, the current government-mandated economic shutdown disproportionately impacts the poor, many of whom either work for hourly wages or in the service sector; often, those least able to afford loss of income have born the economic brunt of “shelter in place” policies.

Faced with the threat of a tsunami of sick patients overwhelming our health care system, our initial national response has tended to err on the side of protecting human life. (As a committed pro-life activist and the parent of a young, at-risk child, that makes a lot of sense to me.) But I’ve noticed an emerging debate between people who are beginning to question the wisdom of an ongoing total economic shutdown and those who continue to argue that we must protect human life, almost at any cost. The debate is exceedingly difficult because of the asymmetric nature of the threats: the immediate or near-term loss of life to hundreds of thousands on one side, vs. the medium-term loss of livelihood to potentially tens of millions on the other. Unsurprisingly, the debate seems to be escalating rapidly along partisan and ideological lines, with both sides talking past each other.

What is a pro-life policymaker to make of this?

Yuval Levin (former executive director of the President’s Council on Bioethics and special advisor for domestic policy to President George W. Bush) brings a welcome, calm evaluation in The Atlantic of where we are, and suggests a broad direction for next steps (emphasis added):

America has mobilized against the coronavirus in some impressive ways. Although we have faced problems and failures—the botched testing rollout, the immense challenges now confronting the health system—we have also seen an extraordinary transformation of our way of life in short order. People have largely accepted the necessity of social distancing and the burdens of shutting down huge swaths of the economy. We have seen real models of leadership, particularly at the state level. And even members of Congress have been working together and negotiating.

But so far, that mobilization has lacked a strategic framework—a clear medium-term purpose toward which our efforts are aimed and against which they are judged. Policy makers need to think about our response to the virus in terms of two steps: a hard pause, followed by a soft start. The pause is absolutely necessary, but so is the careful and gradual return to normalcy….

It is not yet possible to move from the hard pause we have taken to the soft and gradual resumption of normalcy. But it is essential that such a resumption be the goal of that pause. We all need to do our part to let the health system make it through the hardest, most intense period of critical cases. But the aim of public policy should be to have this period last weeks, not months; to let people keep their place while we go through it; and to enable a gradual, soft, uneasy return to work, school, commerce, and culture.

Some of what policy makers have already done has helped advance this cause, and some of it has been confused about its purpose. A clearer, well-articulated strategic framework for policy could help decision makers tell the difference, assess their options, make hard choices, and lead the way.

The whole piece is to be commended.

Ending Abortion One Pregnant Woman at a Time

by Daniel Hart

February 19, 2020

Why do women have abortions, and what can the pro-life movement do to help these women so that they don’t have them?

In terms of directly saving unborn lives, this question should be at the heart of pro-life activism.

Numerous studies have been conducted asking women who have had abortions what their reasons were for going through with the procedure. The primary reason that most women give is financial hardship—depending on the study, between 40 percent and 73 percent say they could not afford the baby.

Emily Berning and her husband founded Let Them Live in 2017 to help solve this problem. In an interview, Berning described how she wanted to start an organization dedicated to helping women with unplanned pregnancies financially after she realized that “there is an untapped market for financial aid and financial support for women who are on the edge, about to have an abortion, to help bring them back and choose life instead.”

According to Berning, the pro-life movement needs to “refocus on these moms because, ultimately, they’re the ones walking into that abortion clinic and they’re the ones who [are] ultimately deciding to [have the abortion].”

Let Them Live’s unique approach to helping women begins with posting a story about a pregnant woman in financial need on their website, with the estimated amount of money the woman will need to get back on her feet and carry her baby to term. By gathering donations through their website (often called “crowdfunding”), Let Them Live has been able to save 26 babies from abortion in the last year. To protect the donations from being misused, Berning says that Let Them Live pays the bills of women in need directly to the utility company or the landlord.

Berning has also emphasized that paying for the short-term financial obligations of pregnant women in need cannot be where their help ends. “We never want to leave the moms we help high and dry so we also connect them with local resources, jobs, and financial literacy classes to ensure their future success.”

Let Them Live is an inspiring example of a startup pro-life organization that is meeting the needs of women with unplanned pregnancies where they are at in order to prevent them from aborting their babies. What is especially encouraging is that a similar strategy for saving unborn lives is being put into practice in a big way by Human Coalition, which has been in operation since 2009.

What makes Human Coalition so innovative is that they are able to provide a whole host of different services all within their organization. First, through the use of online marketing outreach on Google and other popular search services, they reach thousands of people who are looking for abortion facilities.

Once a contact is made, Human Coalition is able to direct the abortion-minded person to their own contact center which is staffed with trained counselors who give encouragement and guidance so that the woman (or boyfriend, husband, or family member) can be directed to services that can assist with helping the woman carry her unplanned pregnancy to term.

After Human Coalition has established this vital connection through their contact center, they can direct the person to one of over 45 pro-life pregnancy centers spread across the country in which they serve and support directly. In addition, Human Coalition owns and operates their women’s care clinics which are “specifically tailored to the abortion-determined client and their families, and offers a range of services designed to support women in crisis” and are now available in six major metropolitan areas. To date, Human Coalition has been able to save 4,483 babies.

But as discussed earlier, the care for women with unplanned pregnancies cannot end once their child is born. That’s why Human Coalition has a “Continuum of Care” program that “coordinates long-term assistance through a network of support services already in place.” These services include “financial, job-training, job placement, maternity housing, health care, etc.”

Let Them Live and Human Coalition are filling a gap in the pro-life movement that is overlooked but highly needed—to specifically target the needs of pregnant women who are seeking out abortion so that they carry their babies to term and are given the resources to thrive post-birth. Let us support organizations like these and pray that their ministries may continue to grow so that our culture will truly and authentically become one where every life is lovingly welcomed, every mother is supported, and abortion becomes unthinkable.

Introducing Lecture Me! - A New Podcast from FRC

by Family Research Council

October 15, 2019

We all need to be lectured sometimes.

Family Research Council’s new weekly-ish podcast Lecture Me! features selected talks by top thinkers from the archives of the FRC Speaker Series. Our podcast podium takes on tough issues like religious liberty, abortion, euthanasia, marriage, family, sexuality, public policy, and the culture—all from a biblical worldview.

Listen with us to the lecture, then stick around afterward as we help you digest the content with a discussion featuring FRC’s policy and government affairs experts.

The first three episodes are now available. They include:

  • Nancy Pearcey: Love Thy Body

FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview David Closson joins Lecture Me! to discuss Author Nancy Pearcey’s lecture about her book Love Thy Body, in which she fearlessly and compassionately makes the case that secularism denigrates the body and destroys the basis for human rights, and sets forth a holistic and humane alternative that embraces the dignity of the human body.

  • Military Mental Health Crisis

Currently, an average of 21 military veterans are taking their lives each day. FRC’s Deputy Director of State and Local Affairs Matt Carpenter joins the podcast to discuss Richard Glickstein’s lecture as he shares the compelling evidence that proves faith-based solutions reduce suicides, speed the recovery of PTSD, and build resiliency.

  • Repairers of the Breach

How can the conservative movement help restore America’s inner cities? FRC’s Coalitions Senior Research Fellow Chris Gacek joins the podcast to discuss Robert L. Woodson, Sr.’s lecture on how the conservative movement must identify, recognize, and support agents of individual and community uplift and provide the resources, expertise, and funding that can strengthen and expand their transformative work.

Lecture Me! is available at most places you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Castbox.

Christianity’s Blessings to Society

by Travis Weber

October 24, 2018

The new life of a believer in Christ motivates him or her to be a good citizen—to seek the well-being of the city or place in which they live. The latest example of this principle comes not from the United States, but from Nigeria.

A recent profile in The Economist, of all places, discusses the development of the “church-city” and the benefits it has brought with it.

Begun as a church, the plot of land north of Lagos, Nigeria now houses 12,000 people and covers more than 6,000 acres. That population will likely double by 2036.

As The Economist notes, “[m]ost African cities are messy, especially around the edges. Suburban roads are invariably crooked, unpaved and unsigned. Houses are plonked down wherever people can acquire land. Many homes are half-built . . .”

Yet in Redemption City, “[e]verything tends to work. Whereas Lagos hums with diesel generators, Redemption City has a steady electricity supply from a small gas-fired power station. It also has its own water supply. ‘We make life easy,’ says Pastor Fola Sanusi, the man in charge of Redemption City’s growth. The city also makes rules, of the kind that could never be enforced in the hurly-burly of Lagos. ‘No parking, no waiting, no trading, no hawking,’ reads one sign.”

‘If you wait for the government, it won’t get done,’” says Olaitan Olubiyi, one of the pastors. “So [Redemption City] relies on the government for very little – it builds its own roads, collects its own rubbish, and organises its own sewerage systems.” The Guardian reports that the government sometimes sends its own municipal experts to learn from Redemption City’s.

Though the properties are supposed to be kept within the community of Christians inhabiting the city, they seem to be making their way into the broader real estate market, being listed on some agencies’ websites.

Other churches in the surrounding area are currently building communities of their own. The Economist concludes: “Pentecostal Christianity has already remade many Africans’ spiritual lives. Now it is remaking their cities.”

While the concept is a bit unusual, this story reminds us that what one believes has direct consequences for society and the conditions in which we live. Our faith leads us to care for our surroundings, and religious organizations often have a widescale impact on the common good. While we are all imperfect, the Christian is (and should be) driven by principles which flow from a faith that seeks the good of our neighbor—and our cities.

How the New Tax Bill Helps Families

by Andrew Guernsey

January 4, 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1 “TCJA”), signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, provides numerous provisions that benefit working families.

Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) has a positive impact on individual families and the economy as a whole and helps parents bear the costs of raising their children.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increases the CTC for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it) by:

  • Increasing the CTC to $2,000 for children under 17;
  • Making the CTC refundable up to $1,400 (indexed for inflation) for low-income working families based on
    • 15 percent of earned income in excess of $2,500; or
    • (if greater) the amount of payroll taxes in excess of the earned income tax credit, for a taxpayer with three or more qualifying children;
  • Removing the CTC marriage penalty for the income phase-out, and increasing the income threshold to $200,000 for single filers and $400,000 for married couples filing jointly;
  • Providing a $500 non-refundable Family Care Credit credit for dependents who don’t receive the CTC; and
  • Requiring a qualifying child to have a Social Security Number for a taxpayer to claim the CTC

Obamacare’s Individual Mandate Penalty

Starting in 2019, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty. This helps many working families obtain relief from being forced into an Obamacare health insurance plan. Repealing the individual mandate penalty also allows individuals to forgo purchasing coverage if doing so violates their conscience. This is especially relevant for individuals who live in the states where there are few or no pro-life health insurance plans that exclude coverage of abortion.

Marriage Penalties

Marriage penalties exist in the tax code and also in welfare programs. The penalty generally applies in the tax code when a tax deduction or credit applies to single and married persons based on income, but a married couple is eliminated from receipt of the benefit making less than 200 percent of an eligible single person’s income.

Income Tax Brackets

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has no marriage penalties for five of seven tax income brackets for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it).

  • Marriage bonus in the 22 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent lower rate than single filers for the first $25,000 they make over $140,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $500 bonus, decreasing income taxes by up to 1.41 percent.
  • Small marriage penalty in the 32 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have an 8 percent higher income tax rate than single filers for the first $5,000 they make over $315,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $400 penalty, increasing income taxes by up to 0.61 percent.
  • Large marriage penalty in the 37 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent higher income tax rate than single filers for the first $400,000 they make over $600,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $8,000 penalty, increasing income taxes by up to 2.59 percent.

Alternative Minimum Tax

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduces marriage penalties for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it) by removing the marriage penalty for the AMT income phase-out ($500,000 for single filers and $1 million for married couples filing jointly). TCJA retains the marriage penalty for the AMT exemption ($70,300 for single filers and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly).

  • Due to the marriage penalty in the AMT exemption,
    • Married couples filing jointly are taxed at 26 percent higher rate than single filers for the first $31,200 they make over $109,400 in taxable income. This is a maximum $8,112 penalty, increasing the AMT by up to 22.19 percent.
    • Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent higher AMT tax rate than single filers for the first $31,200 they make over $295,700 in taxable income. This is a maximium $624 penalty, increasing the AMT by up to 0.71 percent.

Other Marriage Penalty Provisions

  • Retains a marriage penalty for the $10,000 State and local income tax (SALT), property tax, and/or sales tax deduction, which is equal in amount for single filers and married couples filing jointly. This is a maximum $3,700 penalty.
  • Removes the marriage penalty in the Child Tax Credit phase-out ($200,000 for single filers, $400,000 for married couples filing jointly).
  • Fails to address the marriage penalty for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Alimony Deduction

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanently repeals the alimony deduction, which subsidizes divorce. A divorced couple can often achieve a better tax result by receiving a tax break for payments between them than a married couple can. Removing the alimony deduction restores equitable treatment for divorced and married couples’ expenses for child support.

529 Education Savings Accounts

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanently allows 529 education savings accounts to be used for up to $10,000 per year per child for K-12 tuition expenses at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.

529 plan contributions have tax-free earnings and are exempt from the annual federal gift tax if under $14,000 for that year ($28,000 for married couples filing jointly). Contributions to 529 plans receive significant tax breaks in many states. Previously, the 529 plans were only allowed to be used for higher education related expenses.

Death Tax

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubles the tax exclusion from the estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” thereby shielding from taxation the first $11.2 million (indexed for inflation) of bequeathed assets. This provision applies for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it).

The death tax is double taxation that handicaps families, and particularly family-owned businesses, by imposing heavy and burdensome taxes on bequeathed assets. Families often work as a unit to build their small businesses, but when a parent dies with the intention of leaving his or her small business to the children who helped build it, that transfer of assets is often taxed at such high rates that the business cannot continue operating and pay the government, causing the grieving family to close the business’s doors.

Adoption Tax Credit

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act retains the adoption tax credit in current law, which is currently a $13,570 non-refundable credit per eligible child (with a phase out for wealthier individuals). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, in 2015 over 111,000 children were waiting to be adopted. Maintaining the adoption tax credit in current law helps adoptive children find loving families.

Standard Deduction and Charitable Giving

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repeals the deduction for personal exemptions, including the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, and any dependents. The legislation consolidates the personal exemption for the taxpayer and taxpayer’s spouse into a larger standard deduction. The standard deduction is substantially increased from $6,300 to $12,000 for individuals and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples (and surviving spouses), giving working parents more take-home pay to provide for their families. The legislation consolidates the personal exemption for children and dependents into the expanded child tax credit and a new family tax credit to care for non-child dependents. However, increasing the standard deduction could harm charitable giving, including to nonprofits and churches, since fewer people will likely itemize.

Increasing the Child Tax Credit: Good for Families, Good for the Economy

by Rob Schwarzwalder

June 30, 2015

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) have introduced a pro-growth economic plan that includes an increase in the child care tax credit, and the Wall Street Journal isn’t happy about it. In fact, the normally prudent Journal even goes so far as to assert that the child tax credit “does nothing for economic growth.”

Oh, c’mon: Let’s assume that the money retained by families through an expanded credit, per Rubio-Lee, in fact does not foster immediate growth. This is a dubious argument. Personal income tax cuts spur growth just as do corporate income tax cuts.

However, let us agree, for the sake of argument, that the child tax credit is deficient in animating the kind of sustained growth serious people want for the economy. It has another, more profound benefit that the Journal ignores completely: It strengthens families. And strong families mean a stronger economy.

Productivity increases when an adequate number of people are employed using their skills, capacities, and know-how to provide quality and affordable goods and services. Development of these capacities comes heavily from personal formation within the family. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker argued, healthy, educated, and emotionally stable children are essential to economic growth.

So, in targeting family formation through enabling mothers and fathers to better provide for their children and also to bear and raise more children, something demonstrably needed for the economy of the United States given our looming demographic deficit, the Rubio-Lee proposal would substantially abet growth in coming decades. Its facilitation of growth over time is an investment that will bear fruit in a steadily more robust economy.

The immediate costs of child-rearing are such that extra money to help families pay for the enhancement of their most fundamental “investments” – their boys and girls – is laudable.

Regrettably, the Journal has shown a considerable lack of economic common sense in attacking a proposal that would bolster our human capital capacity. FRC applauds Sens. Rubio and Lee for their foresight and justified consideration of family well-being.

Earlier in his career, Schwarzwalder was Director of Corporate Communications at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Does Obama’s Middle-Class Economics “Work”?

by Christina J. Daniels

February 19, 2015

In the 2015 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama made the argument that middle-class economics “works.” He defined middle-class economics as, “the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” But does middle-class economics “work?”

Historically, the idea of a fair chance combined with hard work is at the core of the American Dream. Opportunity, integrity, diligence and effort have combined to make America extraordinarily prosperous. Yet what does Mr. Obama mean by “fair share?”

Apparently he believes this share should include taking money from one segment of the population and transferring it to another – specifically, to those who wish to attend community college. It’s to this end that the President says he wants to make attending community college cost-free.

Yet education funded by redistribution cannot meet the requirements of the real-world job market. In 2009, Time Magazine equated a college degree to a driver’s license, due to its availability. CNN noted that “41% of college graduates from the last two years are stuck in jobs that don’t require a degree.” In March 2014, the liberal news source ThinkProgess also noted that “half a Million People with college degrees are working for (the) minimum wage.” The Huffington Post wrote an article giving seven reasons not to go to college and stated, “The people who sent us down the path of higher education clearly don’t understand basic economics and the law of supply and demand.” Currently, jobs that were once for low-skilled workers are crowded with college students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 19% of high school graduates cannot read, 14% of Americans cannot read and 21% of Americans read below a 5th grade level. By proposing policies such as free community college, the President is ignoring facts in favor of untenable proposals. As the Huffington Post notes, “The U.S. Illiteracy Rate Hasn’t changed in 10 Years:”

According to the Department of Justice, the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” The stats back up this claim: 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

In addition, Begin to Read compiled statistics showing, “two out of three children that do not learn to read by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare”. The article further stated, “Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help.” Illiteracy and prison rates plague the poor and are factors which, as Dr. Patrick Fagan of Marriage and Religion Research Institute documents, further heighten the problem of fatherlessness in America.

So, it’s clear that middle-class economics, as defined by the President, do not “work.” Providing free community college will further devalue education and hurt the poor. When disadvantaged individuals are locked out of society, they do not have a “fair shot,” they cannot do their “fair share,” and they are not playing by the “same set of rules.” To ensure that disadvantaged families have a “fair shot,” liberal politicians must address our nation’s illiteracy problem and its roots – fatherlessness and family breakdown. We should be focusing on helping children that fail kindergarten, families that are locked in multigenerational illiteracy and government dependency and college students struggling to read.

The use of school choice and reforming public housing policy are steps toward making change possible. Giving parents the freedom to choose the school and neighborhood they desire will help alleviate the negative impact of centralized poverty. In high poverty areas, schools and neighborhoods are disproportionately filled with single mothers and peers from less educated households.[i] As Star Parker from the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE) states, we must “bust up” the “ghettos” that public schools and government housing have created. With education and housing choice, we can be sure that everyone is playing by the “same rules” and receives a “fair shot.”

And there is no substitute for a strong, two-parent family in which a mom and a dad get married, stay married, and worship weekly with their children. No community college can ever provide that kind of security, opportunity or love.



[i] Fram, M. S., J. E. Miller-Cribbs, and L. Van Horn. “Poverty, Race, and the Contexts of Achievement: Examining Educational Experiences of Children in the U.S. South.” Social Work 52, no. 4 (2007): 309-19.South

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