Raleigh, N.C. — Charities that provide transportation services say they have been hurt by federal law that reimburses their volunteers at a lower rate than business travelers.
Individuals who drive their cars for business or nonprofit purposes can itemize that expense on their tax returns. Business people can claim 58 cents a mile; volunteers, 14 cents a mile.
Two-time breast cancer survivor Betty Brandon said that the law and record gas prices have severely hurt the nonprofit, Triangle Helping Hands, she founded 10 years ago. She and volunteers drive cancer patients to chemotherapy, radiation and other medical appointments.
Transportation costs have cut down on the number of volunteers and the number of rides they can give to patients, Brandon said.
"We have to turn them down because we can't do it," she said. "It's something that I'm definitely losing sleep over."
Brandon said high gas prices and the low reimbursement have left her out $30,000 and down to three volunteer drivers.
"This is about life-saving treatments," Brandon said. It is important "just to have somebody there, to talk to, to cry with, to just be silent with, somebody to hold your hand."
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators – including Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and Republicans Richard Burr and Elizabeth Dole – introduced a bill to change the rules.
The G.I.V.E. Bill, or Giving Incentives to Volunteers Everywhere Act of 2008, would set the charitable mileage reimbursement rate at 70 percent of the business rate.
However, since the bill was read on Aug. 1, it has stayed in the Senate Finance Committee, and legislators think it won't see action anytime soon, given the pressing priorities of the economic crisis.
Brandon said the problems facing nonprofits need attention just as urgently as those facing the country.
"Cancer doesn't wait on the economy, and cancer patients do not have a bailout plan," she said.