As millions of Americans recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Congress is debating disaster tax relief. The relief would enhance the casualty loss rules, relax some retirement savings rules, and make other temporary changes to the tax laws, all intended to help victims of these recent disasters. At press time, a package of temporary disaster tax relief measures is pending in the House. The timeline for Senate action, however, is unclear.
In past years, after disasters similar to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Congress passed disaster tax relief measures. After Hurricane Katrina, far-reaching disaster tax relief was passed by Congress, which benefited businesses and individuals. In 2008, lawmakers passed a national disaster tax relief law. However, that law was temporary. After Hurricane Sandy several years ago, disaster tax relief was introduced in Congress but ultimately was not passed. Now, Congress is revisiting disaster tax relief.
Targeted tax relief
The House bill is the Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2017. The bill provides targeted tax relief to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Unlike national disaster tax relief, discussed below, the measures in the House bill are temporary.
Included in the House bill is language to:
- Enhance the deduction for personal casualty losses
- Allow penalty-free access to retirement funds
- Encourage charitable giving
- Provide a tax credit to qualified employers
- Allow taxpayers to use prior year income for EITC and child tax credit
At press time, a similar disaster tax relief bill has not been introduced in the Senate. Reports have surfaced that the Senate Finance Committee may unveil some proposals in the near future. These proposals could mirror some or all of the ones in the House bill.
National disaster tax relief bill
In September, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Tom Reed, R-New York, introduced the National Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2017. Their bill aims to create disaster tax relief not just for victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, but victims of all disasters. The lawmakers modeled their 2017 bill on previous national disaster tax relief acts, including the legislation passed in 2008.
Like the House-passed temporary disaster tax relief bill, the National Disaster Tax Relief Act would relax the casualty loss rules. The National Disaster Tax Relief Act would also provide a temporary five-year net operating loss (NOL) carryback for qualified natural disaster losses; allow an affected business taxpayer to deduct certain qualified disaster cleanup expenses; and increase temporarily the limits that an affected business taxpayer could expense for qualifying Code Sec. 179 property.
Please contact our office if you have any questions about disaster tax relief.