DISASTER TAX RELIEF ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - September 24, 2008)
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Mr. KIND. Madam Speaker, I rise, obviously, in support of the legislation. I do want to take a moment and thank my good friend from Texas for being an original sponsor of the legislation that we had introduced earlier this year in regards to disaster relief.
Madam Speaker, as you know all too well, it's always bittersweet to be before the Congress promoting a disaster relief bill; bitter because of the disastrous effect that disasters have on so many families and businesses throughout the country, and certainly we have received our fair share this year alone. But also sweet, given the bipartisan cooperation that we're seeing from the leadership, the leadership on the committee, and I thank Chairman Rangel and Ranking Member McCrery for their help and assistance with this package, and the urgency in order to get this done so that we can get the assistance out and the help provided, so we can start rebuilding our communities again, getting people back in their homes, getting businesses up and functioning, hiring people and restoring people's lives.
And we believe this Disaster Tax Relief Act is the right approach. It has three major features to it that I think merits attention. One is, by using the Tax Code, you build in some predictability and certainty for anyone throughout the country who's affected by disaster. Doing it this way, we don't have to wait for Congress to take an action on an appropriation bill or provide FEMA with more funding in order to get help out there.
Another important feature is that it is a nationwide, consistent and fair approach; so that Members, given their seniority or position on certain committees, don't have increased leverage in providing assistance to their area while neglecting other areas throughout country. By dealing with these tax provisions, it applies uniformly throughout the Nation in every district, every State, they qualify merely based on a Federal disaster declaration in that area.
Then, finally, I believe it provides additional assistance to businesses. Over the last year in dealing with the floods that have devastated the upper Midwest and talking to community leaders, but especially business owners, I was struck by the frustration business owners had in what little disaster assistance is out there for them to get their businesses up and going. About their only recourse, since they don't qualify for direct FEMA grants, was for them to go to the Small Business Administration and negotiate a loan at a rate that's typically not even competitive with local bank rates in their area. By revising these tax provisions this is, I think, a direct response of the need for providing more help to businesses, large and small, that are also affected by these disasters.
Real quickly, to highlight some of the provisions, the measure changes limitations to the deduction of personal casualty losses. It waives limits on charitable deductions for relief associated with federally declared disasters. Businesses can write off or deduct qualified disaster expenses through 2011. Businesses hurt by disasters can carry back now net losses for up to 5 years.
And two more provisions that I have to commend the Iowa delegation especially in promoting and getting including in this legislation, from Mr. Boswell to Mr. Loebsack and Mr. Braley, the additional low-income housing credits that's in this bill, and the private activity bond provisions for housing bonds and for business property projects.
As Mr. Brady also indicated, there is an increase in the charitable mileage rate that Mr. Lewis from Georgia has been advocating for some time in order to help those who are incurring travel expenses for charitable purposes to keep pace with the increased energy costs that they're facing. This will make it a little bit more affordable for them to continue these activities.
About a little over a year ago, Madam Speaker, the rains came, the waters rose, and the flooding occurred in the upper Midwest. And just when so many people were returning to their homes and getting back into their business, early in June this year we suffered the same type of flooding phenomena. It was a double whammy within a 10-month period of time.
To go through it once is one thing. People have this rallying effect and this collective responsibility to one another, and it's truly inspirational seeing how complete strangers show up on people's doorsteps to help. Seeing how the local community leaders and the first responders are the first ones out there battling the devastating effects of these disasters.
But to get hit within a 10-month period of time with the same type of disaster really takes the wind out of the sails. People have been looking for the government, the Federal Government, along with State and local agencies and all the help that they're getting from the private sector to enable them to get back up on their feet.
The floods in the upper Midwest over the past year that devastated the State of Iowa, northern Illinois, southern Minnesota and southern Wisconsin and portions of my district were tough enough. And then to see Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and the devastating effect that that has caused to so many lives in the southern part of our country, the wildfires out west, there is a great urgency and need in order to move this disaster relief package forward.
This is one aspect of it. There will still be an emergency supplemental appropriation bill to provide disaster assistance as well. But again, given the outlines and the contours of this legislation, we think it's a uniform, fair approach with built-in predictability, so that if a disaster declaration is declared, people know what they can expect and what type of relief they can have. And then coupled with the assistance that FEMA is able to provide.
Let me just conclude by thanking FEMA for the assistance that they've provided, at least in the upper Midwest that I personally witnessed. They brought teams in that were the height of professionalism, very sensitive to the needs. They tried to expedite the process as quickly as possible while staying true and responsible to taxpayer funds. We appreciated that assistance as well as the coordination that they provided at the State and local level.
With that, Madam Speaker, I would encourage my colleagues to support the legislation.
I will reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. KIND. Madam Speaker, I yield myself the remainder of my time.
Again, Madam Speaker, I do want to thank and commend the leadership of this Congress, from Speaker Pelosi to Minority Leader BOEHNER, as well as the leadership on the House Ways and Means Committee, to Mr. Rangel, to Mr. McCrery, and my colleagues on the committee.
I also want to thank all the hard work and effort that our staff on the committee and off the committee have put in to putting this legislation in order.
And disasters, as my friend from Texas so eloquently stated, is not fun. It is not fun seeing the effect that it has on families, on little children, on businesses and the spirit of the communities. But they also are a time of great inspiration, and it really tests the true character of any community.
And we've unfortunately seen that in a span of 10 months twice in the State of Wisconsin. We still have communities there that are wrestling with some very important decisions about possibly relocating whole towns into higher ground or to different locations where there have been businesses and homes for generations there, and it's not an easy decision.
At times like that, it's inspirational seeing how people come together and rally from the agencies, to local leaders, to first responders, to volunteer organizations, and complete strangers just showing up because of their concern and compassion for their fellow citizens.
Now, it's the country's time, and this Nation has always shown that compassionate streak, that when one area has been hit by a disaster, we all rally and collectively respond. And no one, no matter where they live, is immune from this, and that's been demonstrated again over the course of this last year.
We think this is an appropriate direction. We think the provisions in here are the right way to go, and I would encourage my colleagues to support this legislation.
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