Senator John ThuneIn the past few weeks, our television screens and newspapers have been filled with heartbreaking images of the devastation following January’s earthquake in the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The powerful earthquake has claimed thousands of lives and left many more injured, homeless, and hungry. U.S. and international aid organizations have worked quickly to assist earthquake victims, but there will be a great deal of need in the years ahead.
We are also too well aware that natural disasters can cause great hardship much closer to home. A severe winter storm recently knocked out water and power for many members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, leaving people stranded without access to water, food, heat, and necessary medical care. I have been in contact with tribal and state leaders, and my staff has been working directly to assist with the situation, but much work remains to be done.
In recent years we have seen individual Americans respond to natural disasters, both at home and abroad, with extraordinary generosity. The Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 both prompted quick responses from people all over the nation. Americans volunteered their time and gave millions of dollars to help people in great need, and I believe we will do the same when disasters occur in the future.
I was proud to support legislation that was recently signed into law allowing individuals who donate money to Haiti relief efforts to claim those donations on their 2009 taxes instead of 2010. Because of the long history of charitable giving in the United States, I have worked throughout the last year to preserve the full tax deduction for charitable giving after it was suggested that it be reduced. Last April, the Senate overwhelmingly passed my amendment to protect the full federal deduction for charitable giving, but unfortunately it was not included in the final budget bill. I will continue working to address the issue because there will always be situations where charitable contributions can save lives.
President Kennedy once described the generosity of individuals in this country toward those in need as, “a unique American tradition.” Technology has made our world a much smaller place, where we are more aware of the impact disasters can have on others, both around the world and in our own state. I know that in difficult times, we will live up to our reputation for generosity and support those in need.