DiNapoli: Personal income tax donations not being sent to charities soon enough

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ALBANY — New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli says that personal income tax check-off funds that go to charitable causes are not distributed to them in a timely manner.

The issue was outlined in a new report released by his office Thursday, in which it was found that more than $15.7 million remained in the 12 charitable funds as of the end of state fiscal year 2016-17. He noted that the distribution of the funding continues to be slow; even 2015 legislation aimed at expediting the process has had little effect.

“Each year, thousands of New Yorkers support important causes through personal income tax check-off programs,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement. “As check-off options expand, it’s essential that state agencies ensure that contributions are used effectively and expeditiously.”

The tax check-off funds have collected $59 million in donations between the various start dates of each fund and the 2016-17 fiscal year. The $15.7 million currently in 12 tax check-off funds reviewed by the comptroller is made up of contributions from taxpayers, transfers from the state’s General Fund, dedicated fees, interest and other revenues.

While the state’s first personal income tax check-off program, known as Return a Gift to Wildlife, was created in 1982 to provide funds for fish and wildlife purposes through the Conservation Fund, 15 more check-offs have been created to provide funding for a variety of programs, including five since 2014.

The comptroller’s office proposed the 2015 legislation that was enacted to speed up the disbursement process, requiring that donations be distributed within the year they are received if possible. The bill also established standardized and comprehensive reporting requirements to improve transparency and accountability for how the funds are used.

According to the comptroller’s recent report, there was no spending for the five funds created since 2014, despite more than $1 million still sitting in their accounts. The five funds are: Homeless Veterans Assistance; Veterans Remembrance and Cemetery Maintenance and Operation; Women’s Cancers Education and Prevention; Mental Illness Anti-Stigma; and NYS Teen Health Education.

Additionally, the report notes that as the number of check-off options has grown, the number of donations going to each individual purpose has declined. The $15.7 million total among all 12 funds declined slightly during the 2016-17 fiscal year compared to the previous year.

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