Congress Passes Landmark Appropriations Legislation

Bill Addresses Key Agudath Israel Priorities

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director and Counsel

In the final days of the legislative session, Congress passed its Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations, which included several items Agudath Israel of America made priorities on its Capitol Hill agenda over the past few years. With both House and Senate completing their work on the measure, the bill heads to the President for his signature.

On the domestic front, perhaps the most significant step forward was the boost in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to $90 million, a 50% increase over current levels. The program provides security enhancement — which may include cameras, concrete barriers, reinforced doors, and security personnel – to nonprofit facilities at high risk of terrorist attack. Agudath Israel and other groups helped create the program and every year since has actively pushed for its expansion.

“The Jewish community has a strong stake in this legislation,” observed Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director. “It is no secret that our community institutions – shuls, schools, religious facilities, charitable and social service centers – are facing the increasing reality of hate and violence, and this substantial increase will help save lives.”

In another area impacting the Jewish community, Congress retroactively repealed what became known as the nonprofit “parking tax,” passed under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Under that provision, nonprofits and religious charities that provide parking and commuter benefits to their employees would be subject to a hefty 21% Unrelated Business Income Tax liability. This unprecedented tax could cost already-financially-strapped shuls, schools and other nonprofit entities thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in taxes and in other filing and compliance costs per year.

“This new tax burden was wrongheaded and counterproductive,” Rabbi Cohen averred. “At a time when charities and religious organizations are stepping up to help address society’s most pressing needs, it makes no sense to add new burdens on them. They deserve our government’s encouragement and assistance, not added pressure.”

Other domestic provision in the bill include a 4-year extension of the “District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program” and the expansion of the “Sec.529 Plan,” both important components of the federal “school choice” initiative intended to assist parents in helping pay for public or private school-related costs. Both issues have been continuing agenda items for Agudath Israel’s Washington Office.

“The Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriation is noteworthy not only for the important ground it has gained on important issues but also for the bipartisanship it has shown on these issues. When the White House works with Congress, when House works with Senate, when Democrats work with Republicans, our government can achieve great things for the nation as a whole and for its various communities,” concluded Rabbi Cohen.