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Disaster donations' dual payoff: Hurricane Laura & other disaster help now, donor tax break later

Hurricane Laura landfall 27August2020 Louisiana_NHC NOAA radar

Hurricane Laura made landfall at Cameron, Louisiana, at 1 a.m. today, Aug. 27, as a Category 4 storm, with winds of 150 mph. Three Sixteen persons lost their lives. Property damage is still being assessed.

Now Louisiana residents, who were the hardest hit by the area's strongest storm in more than a century and which at mid-morning, more than 100 miles inland, was still a Category 1, must deal with the aftermath.

We're still getting reports on the damage. The one bit of good news is that the expected storm surge, if it materialized, looks to have been in a largely unpopulated areas of southeastern Louisiana.

Still, Laura did her fair share of damage, as reports from Lake Charles show. The community of 78,000 or so is about 50 miles north of Cameron and took a beating. Of particular concern is the chemical plant that was on fire today.

Tax help later, recovery help now: This is a tax blog, so at some point relatively soon I'll post about how the Internal Revenue Service and tax code can help.

Right now, though, taxes are the last thing on the minds of Pelican State and, to a lesser degree, Texas residents who got some of Laura's wind and rain. They just want to make sure their loved ones are OK and find out if they have a home to which they can return.

If you want to help, there are plenty of ways to do so. The fastest, easiest and most recommended way is to donate money to reputable groups who are equipped to provide disaster recovery services.

The two charity giants, the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, are taking donations.

To donate by phone, call toll-free the Red Cross at (800) RED-CROSS or 733-2767 or the Salvation Army at (800) SAL-ARMY or 725-2769. The Red Cross also accepts text donations; text the word LAURA to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Charity Navigator has compiled a list of 12 charities its analysts say do good jobs of providing relief and support to Hurricane Laura (and Tropical Storm Marco) affected areas. They include the Red Cross, as well as

Chef José Andrés' World Central Kitchen already has volunteers and staffers in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana, ready to feed people in need after Hurricane Laura. You make an online donation at the nonprofit's web page.

Animal care, too:
Pets also are traumatized by disasters, especially if their families are unable to care for them or they become accidentally separated.

If you want to help the animal victims of Hurricane Laura, consider giving to Austin Pets Alive!, a nonprofit shelter and rescue group currently caring for more than 70 cats and dogs that were in the storm's path. The shelter's urgent needs include laundry detergent, dry cat food, pet carriers, pee pads, leashes and latex gloves.

You can apply to be a foster parent, as well. And, of course, the shelter accepts monetary donations.

Golden State aflame: While the aftermath of Hurricane Laura naturally is getting most attention today, we can't forget about disasters that hit before the Gulf Coast storm.

California is in the midst of some historically terrible, and deadly, wildfires. The California Community Foundation (CFC) has established a Wildfire Relief Fund. You can donate at that web page to provide financial help for the group's recovery efforts.

Forest fire_Aggie Creek fire in Alaska_USDA USForestService_Flickr-cropped
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture/U.S. Forest Service

Also check out CCF's separate pages for ways to support specific geographic assistance efforts. They are list on the Wildfire Relief Resource Pages for Southern California and Northern California.

Charity Navigator also put together another list of nonprofits that are helping Californians as they deal with the wildfires. is tragic situation. Some overlap the Laura charities. Others, like the aforementioned CCF and the California Fire Foundation are specific to that Pacific Coast state.

American Red Cross and Salvation Army workers also are on the ground in the fire-ravaged areas. So is World Central Kitchen, with feeding efforts in Northern California.

Don't forget derecho donations: Folks in Iowa also are still trying to get their lives and businesses back together after the unexpected and devastating derecho that this that state earlier this month.

Table to Table, an Iowa City organization that redistributes food that might otherwise go to waste, is assisting in efforts in Cedar Rapids by delivering food to those in need.

The Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) is a local nonprofit organization, United Way Partner Agency and member of Feeding America. HACAP, which serves six counties in Iowa, has a list of places where those who need it can get access to food, shelter or charging stations. You can donate online to support those services.

Horizons, a local organization in Cedar Rapids, is delivering food to families in need through its Meals on Wheels program.

Feed Iowa First, which serves Linn County, is accepting donations and seeking volunteers to keep its services running. The organization operates urban farms across the county and distributes produce to communities using mobile veggie vans. People are allowed to take as much as they want, no questions asked.

The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation created a disaster recovery fund. Again, you can donate online at that web page.

The Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Facebook page offers a clearinghouse of services and the people and communities who need them.

And, one more time, the Red Cross and Salvation Army are in Iowa, along with, you got it, World Central Kitchen, feeding folks in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Finally, since I've relied on Charity Navigator it's only right that I put in a plug for that group. It also is a 501(c)(3), meaning that in order to keep vetting other nonprofits and curating lists like those for the recent catastrophes, it depends on generosity. If you have a few more dollars to spare, consider giving to Charity Navigator, too.

Check out charities: Speaking of Charity Navigator's examinations of nonprofits, that's something that every potential charity donor should do, too.


Research charities that are soliciting donations for any disaster relief area. Charity Navigator, GuideStar and the IRS' e IRS' Exempt Organizations Select Check to make sure the charity is reputable and does what it promises.

Be skeptical of ones making unsolicited phone calls or sending emails. They could be scams. Hurricane Laura relief efforts. It’s common for scammers to exploit people’s charitable nature during a disaster.

More donation deduction options: Such checking is the first step if you want to claim the charitable donation on your taxes. Your charitable gift must be to a legitimate, IRS-qualified nonprofit.

In most cases, such charitable gifts are made by taxpayers who itemize. Those donations are claimed on Schedule A of their annual tax return.

But this year, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act expanded the donation deduction to those taxpayers who claim the standard deduction. On you 2020 taxes you'll file next year, you now can claim up to $300 in monetary gifts you make to qualified charitable organizations.

Basically, this is an addition to what used to be known as above-the-line deductions that are shown as adjustments to income on Form 1040's Schedule 1. These amounts reduce your total income to a lower adjusted gross income that, in most cases, means a smaller tax bill.

If you are able and want to donate more, great. You can and claim those amounts, too. You'll just need to itemize.

Regardless of which donation deduction you qualify for, take it. I know it's not why you give, but you also shouldn't ignore the tax thanks for doing so.

More on donations: Check out my Tumbling Taxes item that went up on Aug. 29 and connects to this post. It includes a video of Late Night host Stephen Colbert and Chef Andrés.  

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