Many of the people I have spoken to in the aftermath of the presidential election describe a deep sense of sadness. In the wake of troubling appointments to the new administration, some have turned to philanthropy as a way to support what the government is likely to defund. They want to help those who are likely to come under attack — or simply to stand up for what they believe in.
I propose a related but different solution. If billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett can sign a Giving Pledge and promise to donate more than half their wealth to charity, then let those who are likely to benefit from the incoming administration’s proposed tax cuts — generally speaking, those who need it the least — donate to charitable causes the difference between the taxes they would have paid and those that they will pay if the much-discussed new rates take effect. Let them — let us — pledge the difference.
There is good reason to do this. Take, for example, President-elect Donald Trump’s so-called penny plan, which calls for a cut of 1 percent each year on key social welfare (and other) programs to balance out deep tax cuts. This seemingly simple and painless reduction is neither simple nor painless. A penny on the dollar of a program such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is $65 million; a penny on the dollar of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is $165 million. And that’s just in year one.
In my work with the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington, every day I see programs that are helping women, children, the elderly, the poor, the homeless — people who would be seriously affected by the proposed cuts. In one neighborhood in the District, a stone’s throw from the White House, average annual income is $9,300 a year, putting these families in the bottom fifth of all earners in the District. (The top 5 percent, who would benefit greatly from the Trump tax cuts, already make 52 times what the bottom 20 percent earn.)
Families living in this community will take a direct hit if these cuts go through. Nonprofits such as Horton’s Kids in Ward 8, which provides tutoring, mentoring and educational enrichment to the children of Wellington Park, will face even tougher challenges than they do already. A nonprofit in Montgomery County named A Wider Circle, which provides furniture and employment-training programs for families that lack the most basic needs — mattresses and bureaus and other basic household items that human dignity requires — will deal with an influx of families that have lost assistance.
From food to housing to education, from programs for newly arrived immigrants and refugees to arts programs for kids who have so little access to the things that middle- and upper-middle-class families take for granted — all of these will face cuts to their own budgets, increased demand for their services that cuts to other programs will generate or both.
Here is my personal pledge: I will donate to charitable causes the difference between the income tax I now pay and the income tax that I would pay under Trump’s proposals. I will pledge the difference. And if others take the pledge, that difference could be significant. These are dollars that could be designated for those most likely to suffer under a new administration: people who are poor, gay, female, undocumented, uninsured.
So, those who are able to do so, take this new pledge — a different pledge, one you don’t have to be a billionaire to sign. Pledge to make our country a better place to live for everyone.
The writer is founder and president of the Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington.