Bill seeks to help nonprofits on fuel

The Baltimore Sun

Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin are pushing legislation to help volunteer organizations cope with rising gas prices, they announced yesterday.

With organizations such as Meals on Wheels struggling to maintain services as gas prices increase, the senators introduced the Fair Deal for Volunteers Act that would allow the Internal Revenue Service to adjust tax-deduction rates for volunteers who use their own cars.

Volunteers receive a 14-cent tax deduction per mile, a rate that can be changed only by statute. The bill would put volunteer mileage in the same category as job-related moves or medical visits, which the IRS is allowed to adjust along with the price of gas. The rate for that category is 27 cents a mile.

"The nonprofit community is in tough times," Cardin said. "They are asked to do more. More people need Meals on Wheels and other charities to help them, and their volunteers are saying, 'We don't mind helping them, but we can't afford to fill up our tank.'"

At yesterday's news conference, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland Executive Director A. Thomas Grazio said many of the volunteers are retired and live on a fixed income. He said Meals on Wheels lost more than a hundred volunteers this year.

"It could be the final blow that causes the volunteer to say, 'I can't help,'" Cardin said.

During the news conference, the two senators also stressed the devastation of increasing gas prices on small business.

"Small businesses are hurting," Cardin said, "They don't have the flexibility of big business."

Todd Breighner of Streamlined Solutions, a consulting firm that works with small businesses, said that larger businesses may lose money, but "this is not a cycle for small business; it's survival."

Lucy Davis, an independent cab driver said yesterday that she pays $60 to fill her tank, up from $25 a year ago. Davis said she must work two to three hours extra a day to make what she needs.

Breighner said the rising cost of oil also affects companies that use oil byproducts such as vinyl and nylon. The costs for those products are increasing, and the effects are multiplied with higher prices for shipping goods.

"We want to make it clear to those who drive into this gas station that we feel your pain," U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said at the news conference, which was held at the Texaco station on Falls Road in Baltimore.

The two senators co-sponsored an act designed to curtail oil speculation. The two also supported a bill to repeal tax breaks for oil and gas companies and use the money to research renewable energy and energy-efficient technology.

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