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In 2017 Republicans passed a tax bill which introduced a flat 21% tax rate on “fringe benefits” for non-profit organizations and cancelled a tax break that was in force before. The main benefits affected by this change are transportation-related, like free parking in a lot or a garage and subway and bus passes it can also affect meals provided to workers and sometimes also a gym membership. According to religious leaders a lot of churches rely on those perks for their own employees and this tax rate had already seriously affected some congregations.
For example The Jewish Federations of North America is looking at a new $75,000 tax bill this year because of the change. “A lot of people are just finding out about it and the more people find out about it, the more pressure there will be on Treasury and Congress to either delay implementation or consider changing this,” said Steven Woolf, senior tax policy counsel for the group, according to Patheos.
As Tax Day approaches, religious leaders are asking Congress once again to undo that part of the bill. “What we’re talking about is an income tax on the church for providing parking to its employees — that’s what we’re talking about,” said Mike Batts, chairman of the board of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability which is circulating the petition denouncing the tax, as Patheos reports. “It’s absurd.”
Actually, this rule affects all non-profit organizations the same, but it looks like religious groups do not like the idea of being placed on an equal playing field and that they would like to keep their special set of rules for themselves. They are pointing out that the provision of this bill creates an income tax on churches and that houses of worship will be required to file tax returns for the first time in United States history.
This tax bill has some negative impacts and the main reason why it was passed was to give enormous tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. That is why this bill was passed with virtually no debate or discussion and why the Republicans were desperate to pass it as soon as possible. But the provision which affects the perks given to religious groups may be a historic one and finally impose some kind of tax to churches. When the churches pay the taxes in order with the provision of this bill, the country would finally get something in return from all the benefits that religious groups acquired over the years.