From Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s V.P. for Federal Affairs and Washington Director
Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization, recognizes that an omnibus tax bill such as H.R.1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, cuts along various lines in an economically-diverse population. Its effects on the Orthodox Jewish community will, therefore, be felt differently by its different segments. However, as many Orthodox Jews fall within the moderate to low income brackets and find themselves financially strapped by the high costs of Orthodox Jewish life – including the expense of providing their children with a Jewish education – we are hopeful that the legislation will fulfill President Trump’s and Congress’ stated goal of easing the burden on the nation’s middle class.
As a threshold matter, we are deeply disappointed about the bill’s elimination of the deductibility of personal exemptions and the limitations placed on the deductibility of state and local taxes. As a high percentage of Orthodox Jews have large families, and reside in areas that are highly taxed, these changes will likely have a dramatically negative effect on large numbers of our community.
At the same time, we are pleased that some of Agudath Israel’s top priorities were included in the bill:
In regard to education related matters, the expansion of “section 529 savings plans” – championed in the Senate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) – to include tax benefits for various elementary and secondary education costs, including private school tuition, will encourage parents to put away their own money so they can provide a Jewish education for their children. This initiative represents an important victory for educational choice.
The retention of “qualified tuition reduction” benefit will help Jewish schools continue to hire high quality teachers and staff at competitive salaries and help parents by keeping tuition costs down.
Our constituency has a great stake in the child/family tax credit. The final version of the bill enhances this credit – thanks in substantial part to the diligent work of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) – as it will raise the credit amount and the income phase outs, and add other qualifying dependents, in a way that could bring additional relief to our families.
We are gratified that the tax bill retains the deductibility of charitable contributions. But we share the concern of the nonprofit sector as to how the doubling of the “standard deduction” might affect such giving. We are disappointed that Senator James Lankford’s (R-OK) proposal, providing an above-the-line charitable deduction, did not succeed. We must continue to find ways to ensure that charitable giving grows so nonprofits can continue to step up and help address society’s many needs.
Finally, we commend Congress for retaining the Johnson Amendment, which for decades has insulated religious entities and members of the clergy from the inevitable pressure and division they would face by being injected into political campaigns. Keeping partisanship away from the house of worship has been positive for the political process and has been especially beneficial for the autonomy of religious communities and institutions. We believe it should remain that way.
Action alerts sent by Agudath Israel and some of its national partners generated tens of thousands of calls and emails to Congress on these issues. We thank each and every one of our grassroots supporters for taking the time to weigh in on the tax bill.
As H.R.1 has now been passed and will be signed by the President into law, we must all continue to monitor how its provisions affect the individuals and institutions it is intended to help. Federal, state and local governments must think creatively, and adopt legislation, regulation and policies that best allow the new tax bill to live up to its stated promise.