High gasoline costs have put a crimp into volunteer activity at charities across the country.
Organizations, including the American Red Cross and Catholic Charities, have complained that the current tax deduction for use of a personal car while performing volunteer services for charities was too low at 14 cents a mile. That is compared with 58.5 cents a mile for corporate employees who use their cars for business purposes.
More than 100 charitable groups have signed a letter asking Congress to address the problem. And on Wednesday, four senators plan to announce a proposal to reset the charitable mileage deduction to 70 percent of the corporate deduction.
“This is typical of how grass-roots politics works,” said Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, all Democrats.
Mr. Ensign added, “You hear from people out there who are affected by something, they make a case for a change, and you go, ‘Gee, that makes a lot of sense, why wasn’t it done a long time ago?’ ”
The Internal Revenue Service recently reset the mileage deduction offered to corporate employees to 58.5 cents a mile from 50.5 cents a mile in response to soaring gasoline prices, but it cannot do the same for charities without an act of Congress.
The charitable mileage deduction was last raised a decade ago. “It’s really absurd,” Mr. Schumer said.
Additionally, if charities elect to give their volunteers the difference between the corporate mileage rate and their own, volunteers must count that amount as taxable income.
The proposal by the four senators would eliminate taxes on such reimbursement.
Steven Tregerman, a real estate agent in Syosset, N.Y., volunteers with Jewish Association Services for the Aged Plainview-Old Bethpage Cares, a nonprofit group that works to enable elderly people to stay in their homes and neighborhoods. He drives recipients to medical appointments, the grocery store, the library and other destinations.
“I had enlisted other people, or really, shamed them, into doing it as well, but many of them have given it up,” Mr. Tregerman said. “A lot of them are on fixed incomes, and they said they couldn’t afford it.”
As a result, the number of trips he makes has doubled to an average of 10 or 12 a week, he said. “I had my first double ride today, where I picked up two people from the same physical therapist’s office,” Mr. Tregerman said.