Protect Your Website’s .ORG Registry from Price Hikes
Prices for nonprofit website addresses ending in .org may soon increase dramatically and censorship may become a distinct possibility because of two seemingly connected events. Earlier this year, the governing body overseeing the .org domain, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), removed price caps despite 97 percent of the more than 3,200 submitted comments expressing opposition. The removal leaves nonprofits vulnerable to abrupt, unanticipated, and significant cost increases at a moment’s notice. Then, last month, the nonprofit Internet Society announced it had sold its ownership of the .org Public Interest Registry to a private equity firm, Ethos Capital.
The proposed sale would put the rights to more than 10 million domains in the hands of venture capitalists, who – without the longstanding cost controls in place to protect nonprofits – could take more than $750 million dollars from nonprofit missions. The conversion of the .org registry to for-profit control raises the specter of corporate interests shutting down websites that do what nonprofits do: speak truth to power. A new letter sent to the Internet Society in opposition to the sale, which the National Council of Nonprofits and more than 11,000 others have already signed, also states, “Decisions affecting .org must be made with the consultation of the [nonprofit] community, overseen by a trusted leader. If the Internet Society  can no longer be that leader, it should work with the [nonprofit] community and [ICANN] to find an appropriate replacement.”
What You Can Do
Nonprofits are encouraged to take one or more of the following actions to protect their .org domain names as well as the entire nonprofit community:
The Year-End To-Do List: Spending and Taxes
Like soap operas, Congress tends to present daily angst-fraught episodes, only to come together in December to wrap up loose ends. Lawmakers again appear to be following this TV-age old format by passing a short-term funding bill just before Thanksgiving that expires December 20. It also reached an 11th hour agreement on spending levels/subcommittee allocations that may enable Congress to enact all 12 appropriations bills before adjourning for the year. That holiday cheer could also extend to many outstanding tax issues, including a House-passed retirement security bill, renewal of expired tax breaks for for-profit businesses, and corrections of dozens of technical mistakes in the 2017 tax law. Of immense concern to charitable nonprofits is the need to repeal the tax on nonprofit transportation benefits that was included in the so-called “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”
Many pitfalls remain, however, that could frustrate any true resolution of the many issues that Congress is confronting. The impeachment actions in the House and possible trial in the Senate are further straining already frayed relations. The President’s demand for funding for his southern border wall has not been resolved, nor has the question of whether Democrats will insist on blocking diversion of funds appropriated for other purposes to pay for wall construction. Another partial federal government shutdown is still a possibility, curbing enthusiasm for any significant progress on spending, tax, and other policies of importance to nonprofits and the public.
- Clarifying Large Donations under Gift/Estate Tax Rules: The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service issued final regulations confirming that individuals taking advantage of the increased gift and estate tax exclusion amounts in effect from 2018 to 2025 will not be adversely impacted after 2025 when the exclusion amount is scheduled to drop to pre-2018 levels. Treasury Decision 9884 include four examples which, among other things, illustrate the impact of inflation adjustments. According to the government, individuals planning to make large gifts between 2018 and 2025 can do so without concern that they will lose the tax benefit of the higher exclusion level once it decreases after 2025.
- Challenging the Medicaid Work Requirements: Medicaid recipients in Michigan are challenging in federal court that state’s work requirements and mandatory volunteerism for people trying to participate in the federal-state health insurance program. Four enrollees brought the lawsuit, which argues against “ongoing efforts of the Executive Branch to bypass the legislative process and act unilaterally to fundamentally transform Medicaid, a cornerstone of the social safety net.” The suit estimates that 61,000 to 183,000 people in Michigan could lose insurance under the requirements. “It’s not hyperbole to say that this law will lead to illness and death for individuals who lose their health care coverage,” warns Lisa Ruby, an attorney with the Michigan Poverty Law Program. Federal judges have already blocked similar requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky.
Repealing the Tax on Nonprofit Transportation Benefits
A letter sent to congressional leaders last month expressed the clear message that they must include repeal of the tax on nonprofit transportation benefits in any and all bills moving through Congress right now. The tax, part of the 2017 tax law, requires nonprofits to pay an additional 21 percent on benefits, such as transit passes and parking, they provide to their employees. With all the competing issues and special investigations in Congress right now (see lead Federal article), nonprofits have to break through the noise to deliver a clear and simple message. Take two minutes now and call (202-225-3121), email your Representative and Senators, and/or tweet this message: “Don’t hold community #nonprofits hostage to partisan bickering; repeal the nonprofit #transportationtax immediately.”
Census Spending Ramps Up
Twenty-six states have appropriated funds – nearly $350 million – to pay for outreach efforts in preparation for the 2020 Census. Most of that funding was allotted by California, which has appropriated $187 million, roughly $4.73 per resident. New York is a distant second with $60 million, or $3.07 per resident, provided to educate and promote completion of the census questionnaire as well as targeting efforts for hard-to-count communities. Meanwhile, five states – Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Texas – have failed to even appoint an entity to organize statewide efforts to encourage people to participate in the census.
Data demonstrate that states and localities can suffer significant financial losses when undercounts occur. An updated report by George Washington University calculates $1.5 trillion in federal funding was distributed in 2017 using census-derived data. Federal funds disbursed through Medicare, Medicaid, Community Development Block Grants, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps) all rely on census data. The affected programs, funded based on census data, often impact the work of many charitable nonprofits. These include education (early childhood assistance, school breakfasts, Direct Student Loans, Pell Grants), social justice (Crime Victim Assistance, Social Services Block Grant, Homeland Security Grant Program), housing (Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Public Housing Capital Fund, Public and Indian Housing), and workforce development (vocational rehab, community facilitation, WIOA youth and adult activities, Native American employment and training). Nonprofits in communities throughout the United States are engaging in census outreach efforts to ensure a fair, accurate, and complete count.
North Carolina Lawmakers Promote Disaster Relief
Last month, North Carolina enacted a law providing funding for ongoing hurricane recovery efforts in many parts of the state. One provision requires nonprofits receiving disaster relief and recovery funds from the state to also attempt to find other funding sources, including insurance policies, federal funds, and private donations, to cover their losses from these hurricanes. Additionally, the bill includes $250,000 in state funding per year for the statewide 2-1-1 system operated by the United Way of North Carolina and a $15 million grant to the Golden LEAF Foundation to provide grants to 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits and local governments to repair, replace, construct, or improve infrastructure or equipment damaged by previous hurricanes or to improve infrastructure to prevent damage in future storms. The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits supported the bill and also helped lead efforts at the federal level to provide recommendations to Congress for disaster relief and recovery to support the work of charitable nonprofits.
2019 Policy Trend: Minimum Wage Hikes
Four states passed legislation in 2019 that gradually increase their state minimum wages over the next few years (Illinois – to $15/hour; Maryland – to $15; New Mexico – to $12; and New Jersey – to $15), continuing an ongoing, national trend. Last month, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a bill to increase the state minimum wage from $7.25 per hour in four stages to $9.50 per hour by 2022. The bill also incorporates new federal rules on bonuses into state law. Although not in the legislation, a deal reportedly has been stuck with the Governor that, in exchange for the minimum wage hike, he will cancel the planned increase in the overtime salary threshold (to $45,500 per year by 2022) scheduled to go into effect in January. A ballot measure in Florida that will be up for a vote next year would increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2021 and an additional dollar per year until reaching $15 in 2026.
Mapping Out the Census
With the clock ticking, advocates for a fair, accurate, and complete count for the 2020 census are – literally – mapping out how to count every person in the United States. There is a conscious effort to identify hard-to-count (HTC) communities to enable census enumerators, state and local governments, and community nonprofits to see where resources are most needed to ensure each household and person is reached. HTCs often are located in either sparsely-populated rural areas that pose difficulty in physically locating households or densely-populated urban communities that have multi-unit, multi-occupants, and multi-family living arrangements. Certain demographic groups also pose a higher risk of being undercounted, such as children under 5, people with limited or no internet access, and recent immigrants.
Hard-to-count communities and populations may require more costly in-person follow-up. Therefore, census experts have created special tools to ease the process and make sure everyone is counted. Nonprofits active in their communities will find these easy-to-use resources invaluable in connecting with the people they serve, both now for census outreach and later for advancing their missions long after the census count is complete.
The CUNY Mapping Service at the Center for Urban Research has created for the U.S. Census Bureau a nationwide map that can zoom in to the street level to determine the percentage of households in that tract that mailed back their 2010 census responses. The map is searchable by census tract, address, ZIP code, landmark, county, state, or legislative districts. Red and orange coloring allows users to immediately see where rates of response were 73 percent or less, providing visual clues to where advocates should go to educate communities about the importance of participating in the census, alert respondents about the upcoming questionnaires, and share census-activity resources.
The U.S. Census Bureau Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM) application also identifies HTCs and provides socioeconomic and demographic characteristic profiles of the areas. Specific and distinctive information about the make-up of these communities enables nonprofits and others to tailor communications and partnership campaigns within those communities, as well as field resources and staff requirements with proper language skills to meet the unique needs. The map allows users to add layers, like the school district, ZIP code, and response score, to determine where and what is needed within the state, district, and locality.
Finally, the most nonprofit-focused resource is one developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and State Count Action Network (S-CAN). The State-By-State Map helps state-based coalitions working on census outreach in their states to find contact information of trusted charitable nonprofits leading census efforts and provides state-specific featured resources in their states. External facing partners have agreed to be a resource hub and connector for others in their state looking to get involved in outreach and educational efforts on a state and local level. Often a part of their Complete Count Committee/Commission or connected with local and state government officials, external partners are a great place to start for census advocacy.
While counting every person in the country is a daunting undertaking, maps for how to get there are vital tools. Understanding geography and demography allow for a clear road ahead.
Read more examples of Advocacy in Action,
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