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Obama’s proposed budget cuts concern Jewish groups

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish organizations are expressing concerns at cost-cutting proposals in President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget for 2013.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and The Jewish Federations of North America released statements Monday objecting to the proposal that would reduce the tax deductibility rate of charitable donations for taxpayers earning more than $250,000 to 28 percent from the current 35 percent.

“Despite the fact that the White House had recently indicated that its tax reform proposals would not disincentivize large charitable gifts, today’s Budget release is disappointing for America’s charities and the millions we support, particularly during this time of economic distress,” William Daroff, vice president for public policy and director of JFNA’s Washington office, said in a statement.

JFNA noted last week that the Obama administration emphasized in its “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” that it would maintain the deductibility rate of charitable contributions.

The Orthodox Union said in its statement that the decision to reduce the rate to 28 percent could slash donations to American charities by $4 billion annually. 

Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director of public policy, said his organization was “deeply concerned" over the budget plan and that it "is a recipe for harmful displacements and cuts in much-needed non-profit sector institutions and services.” 

“The tax deductibility of charitable contributions is, apart from a person’s generosity of spirit, the most powerful tool America’s charities possess to raise funds that enable them to serve their brothers and sisters,” Diament said in the statement. "We are disappointed that despite the across-the-board protests this proposal has received from the charitable sector in past years, the President puts forward this harmful proposal yet again.”

B’nai B’rith International and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also released statements outlining their issues with provisions in the budget. 

Allan Jacobs, president of B’nai B’rith, expressed his hope in a statement that his organization could “work with Congress to improve on the numbers in the president’s budget for new affordable senior housing construction and make sure that other savings associated with the program do not translate into unaffordable rent increases for low-income seniors.” 

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow emphasized that when considering the president’s budget, Congress “should look to provide critical assistance to the millions of Americans impacted by the recession who have been protected by our social safety net.” 

Prior to the release of the budget, JCPA organized a letter to Congress on Feb. 9 with signatories from 20 other Jewish organizations highlighting the budget priorities of the organized American Jewish community. They focused on balanced deficit reduction, preventing spending cuts that could hurt disadvantaged Americans and providing robust assistance for Israel. 

The proposed budget leaves Israel’s $3 billion annual defense assistance intact but separately cuts joint missile defense programs with Israel by $6 million, to $100 million, according to reports. Haaretz quoted U.S. officials as saying that Israel was warned of the cuts.

Presidents routinely propose modest cuts in such programs; Congress routinely restores the cuts and usually adds to the budget.

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