House approves faster tax breaks for Haiti donations

U.S. aid to Haiti
U.S. soldiers load a military helicopter with water at the Toussaint L'ouverture international airport in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 15, 2010.
AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo

The House has passed a bill allowing taxpayers to write off donations to Haiti earthquake relief efforts when they file their 2009 taxes this spring.

Under current law, donors would have to wait until they file their 2010 returns next year to take the deductions. The bill would allow donations made by the end of February to be deducted from 2009 returns.

The bill passed the on a voice vote Wednesday, with no opposition. The Senate is expected to vote on the measure soon.

A similar law was enacted in 2005 for donations to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami that happened in December 2004.

Last week's quake killed an estimated 200,000 people in Haiti, left 250,000 injured and made 1.5 million homeless, according to the European Union Commission. A powerful aftershock caused even more damage Wednesday.

The American Red Cross had raised a total of $127 million as of Tuesday evening, spokesman Roger Lowe said. Of that amount, about $24 million had come from people making $10 donations by texting the word "Haiti" to the number 90999 from their mobile phones, Lowe said.

"The American people have been generous already," Lowe said. "We're deeply appreciative of that, and we're also extremely grateful that Congress is taking this step."

Lowe said donations will help short-term relief efforts as well as long-term reconstruction projects.

Lawmakers hope to encourage more donations by speeding up the tax benefits, said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the committee, said, "To the extent that we can encourage additional giving sooner, by making these donations tax deductible, it is the right thing to do."

The bill is also sponsored by the top Democrat and Republican on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, improving its likelihood of passing.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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