You know those tax check-off donations? Your contributions can go unused
Apr 12, 2018
New Yorkers can select from 16 different charitable causes to donate to when they file their income taxes each year.
And New Yorkers are generous: $59 million was donated to the various causes since the funds started be created in 1982, ranging from helping to fight breast cancer to aiding wildlife.
But the money often can sit unused for years, a report Thursday found.
Nearly $16 million donated to the 16 different funds sat unspent as of April 2017, the state Comptroller's Office said.
It's a problem that dates back years: The money is collected, but the groups or state agencies who get the donations don't promptly spend them, often creating multi-million dollar balances.
“Each year, thousands of New Yorkers support important causes through personal income tax check-off programs,” Comptroller Thomas 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 state Legislature sought to improve the system with a new law aimed at speeding up the use of the money, trying to encourage that donations be disbursed within the year they are received.
But the change has had mixed results, DiNapoli said.
For example, five funds created over the past four years had a combined $1 million in their accounts unspent, including ones to help homeless veterans; veterans' cemeteries; women's cancer prevention; fight mental illness and help teen health education.
Some of the causes have, in fact, increased their spending in recent years, including ones for breast cancer research; missing children; Alzheimer's Disease; volunteer firefighter recruitment and prostate cancer research.
Still, two funds had higher balances than the prior year: The largest was $8.2 million available in the Breast Cancer Research fund, up nearly 10 percent from the year before.
There was no immediate comment from the state, which administers some of the programs.
In 2013, the Democrat and Chronicle started to write about the problems with the donations, prompting a closer review by DiNapoli's office and the change in law in 2014.
Despite the issues, though, the state has expanded the number of tax check-offs.
But how much New Yorkers are contributing is basically the same, the report said.
The Return a Gift to Wildlife fund was the first started in 1982.
Yet in 1989, when it was still the only one, it collected $1.8 million. Now, even with all the new funds, the total collected was $2.2 million last year.
The donations to each charity last year fluctuated, the report said.
It ranged from an average donation of $3 to the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center fund to $27 for the Mental Illness Anti-Stigma fund.