A Boost for Giving

Senate passage this week of a bill to encourage giving is good news both for charities and Americans who want to donate.

The measure, which should easily pass the House, would give people who don't itemize their deductions up to $250 in tax breaks after their first $250 donation during the next two years. It also allows tax-free donations from Individual Retirement Accounts and gives banks incentives to help low-income people save.

The bill bogged down last year over proposals to make it easier for religious charities to get federal grants. Supporters argued that people should have a choice of religious providers if they want them; opponents claimed the provisions threatened to breach church-state separation.

Opposition dissolved when the bill's sponsors, Sens. Rick Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania and Joseph Lieberman (D) of Connecticut, dropped the controversial language. Still, many of the donations the bill encourages will go to religious groups.

President Bush and Senator Santorum vow to continue efforts to allow faith-based social work to get federal money. The administration has rewritten regulations to help such organizations compete for funding.

A middle way can be found to enable religious charities to receive government funds on an equal basis with secular organizations.

Direct aid raises questions about hiring practices and favoritism. Vouchers for individuals might be the means to cut through that legal thicket.

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