By KARISSE CARMACK
WASHINGTON (Oct. 19, 2008)—Maryland nonprofits are hoping Congress will help them cope with higher gas costs before they have to curtail services, several of their executives said.
"It really impacts us in a lot of different ways," said Diakonia executive director Claudia Nagle.
Diakonia is a nonprofit organization in West Ocean City providing temporary shelter for disadvantaged families. Vehicles are also available for family members who want to run errands such as doctor's appointments or to drive to and from work.
About 1 percent of the budget is spent on transportation, but that number has increased by half, Nagle said, however she said she didn't have exact figures yet.
The average price of gas in West Ocean City is $3.069. Last month it was $3.491 and a year ago it was $2.694, according to AAA's Fuel Price Finder Web site.
The effects of high gas prices are especially intense among the poor in her area because they live "in a predominately rural area where transportation is very limited, where the distance they have to go to for some of their appointments is quite large," Nagle said.
Frederick Rescue Mission in Frederick also provides transportation for men who stay at its substance abuse treatment facilities. The vehicles are primarily used to take the patients to medical or legal appointments, said Director Arnold Farlow.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2007, the residential treatment program spent $23,764 in transportation costs. During the same period this year, the mission spent $33,636, said Finance Director Tom Jordan.
Hearts and Homes for Youth in Silver Spring uses its vehicles to take at-risk youth and runaways to school and to medical appointments, said Executive Director Rex Smith.
For fiscal year 2009 (from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2009) transportation costs are expected to increase more than 30 percent, from $65,000 to a projected $82,000, the organization said.
"This does not include mileage reimbursement to staff, or vehicle maintenance," said Central Office Operations Chief Loretta d'Eustachio in an e-mail.
Charities are hoping help is on the way. Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, among others, joined forces last month to introduce a Senate bill to help organizations with their transportation costs.
The Giving Incentives to Volunteers Everywhere (GIVE) Act allows the Internal Revenue Service to set the mileage deduction rate as high as those for business travel, but not lower than the deductions for the medical travel and moving, according to a Sept. 24 press release.
The purpose is to ease the economic burden of buying gas in order for volunteers and charitable organizations to continue their service.
Under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, the reimbursement rate for charities is fixed at 14 cents. But business travel is reimbursed at 58.5 cents per mile and moving and medical transportation costs can be deducted at 27 cents per mile.
The GIVE Act would give the IRS commissioner "more flexibility" to adjust rates, said Sue Walitsky, Cardin's national communications director.
Maryland Nonprofits is one of the bill's supporters. The organization provides about 200 training sessions a year, and helps Maryland charities manage their enterprises more effectively, said Henry Bogdan, public policy and public affairs director.
At Diakonia, there are residents who do not need transitional housing but struggle to maintain a "fragile balance," Nagle said.
There are families who use Diakonia's food pantry because they needed to use food money for gas. More than 2,000 grocery bags have been distributed so far this year for this purpose, said Nagle.
Citizens who used Diakonia's transitional housing and vehicles received 55,000 meals last year, Nagle said.
The charity directors said they are reluctant to cut services to compensate for gas prices.
"We have not come to the point where we cannot provide case management services," Nagle said. Diakonia is "unable" to cut back on transportation despite "the rapid increase in the costs," but the organization is looking for "creative" ways to manage the budget.
For now the goal is to "minimize cutbacks as much we can," Farlow said.
Nonprofit employees have been encouraged to support the bill via Maryland Nonprofits' Web site, Bogdan said.
Maryland Nonprofits will continue to work with other national organizations on behalf of charities until the bill passes, said Bogdan.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.