Mileage deduction, and why it should be equalized–by being eliminated

The Nonprofiteer received a follow-up to an earlier posting concerning the disparity between the mileage deduction allowed to employees and that permitted volunteers:

I . . . wrote letters to my senators (no response), the major presidential campaigns (no response), my congressman (form letter response) and the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

I just heard back from LANO today and thought you might be interested in what’s going on at the federal level recently (below and update #2).

Of course, if only a paltry number of people encourage passage, this will die in committee, but one can always hope that nonprofit organizations will advocate for their volunteers (hope springs eternal…) I mentioned the disparity to a staff member of the National Endowment for the Arts at a meeting we both attended recently—she was astounded. Not surprising, as no one appears to really be looking out for volunteers.

Still going to stay on my soapboxJ

Christie Weeks

Ms. Weeks appended a report about a House bill to equalize mileage allowances and an amendment to the farm bill sponsored by Senator Dole (late of the American Red Cross) to raise the volunteer mileage allowance to 40 cents (10 cents below the business rate). (Unclear whether the amendment survived the floor vote on the bill or whether the bill itself will survive a threatened veto.)

The Nonprofiteer is not running for office, so she can say this in the baldest form possible: anything that encourages people to use their cars is a poor idea, and that includes an increased mileage deduction for charity volunteers. Americans already drive too much, and the only good thing about skyrocketing gas prices is that they will do what no amount of moral suasion has managed, which is to get us to drive less–which in turn may reduce our willingness to have young people killed in the Middle East to assure cheap fuel to the rest of us.

Volunteers should be riding public transportation to their charity gigs, as employees should be riding public transportation to their jobs. If the volunteer gigs themselves require driving (e.g. delivery of meals on wheels), then mileage is a component of the charity’s operating expenses, and every individual volunteer (or organized group of volunteers) can negotiate with the charity about what proportion of those expenses should be paid by the charity rather than its volunteers.

But–lest the point get lost in the qualification–it’s time to stop subsidizing driving, at charities or anywhere else.


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5 Responses to “Mileage deduction, and why it should be equalized–by being eliminated”

  1. Anita Bernstein Says:

    It’s definitely time to get rid of the mileage deduction, but when we take it away we should give volunteers something in exchange; if we don’t, we might jeopardize their showing up. I’d like to see non-driving alternatives qualify for an enlarged deduction of some kind–maybe twice the out-of-pocket fare for those who use public transportation and, for non-urban volunteers, a flat deduction for choosing a van-pool arrangement. Effects on the U.S. fisc would be trivial in proportion to the large and urgent PR message.

  2. Volunteer Fire Department President Says:

    I would tend to disagree with this assessment for volunteer fire departments. With the price of fuel increasing, it is significantly more difficult for our members to justify responding to calls that are probably going to be silly, such as “Automatic Fire Alarm”, “Investigation”, “Traffic Control”, and even things like “Difficulty Breathing”.

    Whether or not you think that volunteers should have some of their costs offset (which in many cases then reduce the cost to taxpayers as services that do not have to be provided by government), there are some volunteer organizations such as ours, where MORE should be done to encourage people to join so when you call 911 you aren’t wondering why we aren’t coming.

  3. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I absolutely think volunteers should have some of their costs offset–my harsh response was not to the fact of volunteerism but to the fact of driving. Professor Bernstein’s suggestion that we offer a non-driving deduction or credit of some sort to make up for what volunteers are losing makes perfect sense to me as a way to encourage people to assist without rewarding them for using a nonrenewable resource whose true cost isn’t reflected in its price. Of course the members of a volunteer fire department are, like those who deliver meals on wheels, engaged in an activity that requires driving; but even in a VFD there are probably ways to reduce driving without reducing service. My argument is that when we’re subsdizing things through the tax code we should subsidize the things we truly want–volunteer services–not things that stand in for them. That doesn’t mean the firefighters should be stuck with the whole cost themselves: a fundraising appeal for a volunteer fire department emphasizing the rising cost of gasoline–“We can’t reach you if we’re running on empty”–should be quite effective in creating a fund from which individual firefighters could be partly reimbursed.

  4. Anita Bernstein Says:

    I think we all agree that anyone who volunteers to put out fires in remote locations should not be discouraged from using a combustion engine to do the job. As I understand it, the vast majority of deduction-takers are claiming credit for slower travel with nobody’s life hanging in the balance. Why not have firefighting and meals-on-wheels nonprofits incorporate with their own IRC subsection number, meaning that volunteer work for these (and only these) organizations would be eligible for a mileage deduction?

  5. Gasoline and poor people « Says:

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