By Jon Delano

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Just when charitable giving goes up during the holidays, Congress passes a tax bill that could up-end it all, local charities say.

“The new tax law reform that’s coming out is going to change the way that people give, I think, and take away some of the incentive of giving to charitable organizations,” said Major Deborah Sadlar, of the western Pennsylvania division of the Salvation Army.

From the Salvation Army to foundations to non-profits, charities worry fewer people will donate because the new law encourages people to take the standard deduction where donations to charities can “not” be itemized and deducted.

“The projections are that we could lose up to $60 million,” Bob Nelkin, president of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

That’s $60 million of charitable contributions lost in this region alone.

“Do people give just out of a generous heart? I think most people do. But has it been an inducement or an incentive? Absolutely,” says Nelkin of the tax deduction. “Or why would a million and a half Pennsylvanians actually write this down on their tax form? They obviously see a value in that, and incentives matter.”

Besides the non-profits and foundations, religious institutions care deeply about this charitable deduction.

The question is, if folks don’t itemize, will they continue to give to their churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions?

“Will that have an effect? It very may well, but I have a pretty optimistic view,” says Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Zubik says local charities could take a hit, but he’s hopeful.

“Don’t give a gift because you want something back. You give a gift because it’s really coming from your heart. I hope that is what will happen here,” he says.

Nelkin wants Congress to amend the tax bill to allow everyone to deduct donations to charities.

“We as a society, and our government should support this, should make it easier rather than harder to give to charities,” he said.

Donna Fencik, Public Relations Director with the Salvation Army, says they do more than just help those that are in need during Christmas.

“For some of our . . . locations, their kettle supports them well into the New Year doing the things that we do 365 days a year,” said Fencik.

While the Salvation Army is known for helping with the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, Fencik says they do so much more.

“We also have programs for young people, after school programs, mentoring, tutoring, character building programs. . . we have a beautiful summer camp up in Ellwood City that kids can go to,” said Fencik.

The Western Pennsylvania Division of the Salvation Army uses 82 cents of every dollar donated to help those in need.

“That number is pretty unheard of in the non-profit world,” said Fencik.

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