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Lawmakers promote charity through taxes

Lawmakers promote charity through taxes

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SPRINGFIELD - As the April 17 deadline to file taxes approaches, lawmakers say many people don't take advantage of a simple way to donate money to charity.

Through a series of check-offs on the state income tax form, taxpayers can designate the amount of money they want to give to any of 17 designated charities. All of the money raised goes directly to the organizations, said Geraldine Conrad, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue.

Having a broad range of charities gives people a choice of causes to support, one lawmaker said.

"Different people have different interests," said state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline. "Some are willing to contribute to something and they might not to others."

The program usually collects more than $1 million each year. Illinois taxpayers donated about $1.8 million on 2004 state tax returns, and the General Assembly approved eight new check-offs for 2005.

The new check-offs are: epilepsy assistance, diabetes research, colon cancer research, sarcoidosis research, autism research, blindness prevention, pet population control and brain tumor research.

The most successful check-offs include ones for military family relief, breast cancer research and wildlife preservation. The military family relief fund raised more than $300,000 in 2004 from income tax form check-offs.

Other funds include child abuse prevention, Alzheimer's disease research, homeless assistance, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) research and the Illinois Veterans' Home.

Some lawmakers say the check-offs have been quite successful, so they have proposed adding another one for next year.

The Heartsaver automatic external defibrillator fund would raise money to put defibrillators at various locations, including health clubs and schools, Boland said. He added that defibrillators are being required at more places, increasing the need for money to pay for them.

"It's a fund that will save a lot of lives," said state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.

The fund has already received private donations from large corporations, Sandoval said.

In order for the check-offs to be effective, people need to be aware of the opportunity, supporters said.

"There is a lack of education and communication on the number of check-offs," Sandoval said.

Through March 24, the funds had raised $592,558, which is $72,750 less than at the same point last year.

Although the numbers are lower this year than at this point last year, Conrad said that is not a cause for concern. She said the tax-filing period is not over, and the numbers could jump by the time all the returns are in.

"On an annual basis, even if we had a whole page of check-offs, I think that there's an opportunity for Illinoisans to say 'I'd like to support a worthy cause,'" Sandoval said. "I personally believe there is no finite number of check-offs."

Contributions must be more than $1 and will be deducted from the taxpayer's refund or added to the balance due. Each fund must receive at least $100,000 in donations to be eligible to stay on the next year's form, Conrad said.

"As long as they have to raise $100,000 to stay on, they should stay on if they raise that much," Boland said. "It's kind of a neat way to ask folks if they'd like to give a little bit of their refund."

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