11-30-2017 Columns

Take action on ‘Giving Tuesday’… and beyond

 You probably already know about the two big shopping days – Black Friday and Cyber Monday – that follow Thanksgiving. But did you know that Giving Tuesday was observed on Nov. 28? By showing your generosity on this day and throughout the holiday season, you can benefit charitable organizations and your loved ones – and your gifts can even provide you with some potential financial advantages.

So, what sort of gifts should you consider? Here are a couple of suggestions for the charitable organizations you support:

Give cash. Any charitable group will welcome cash contributions. If the charity has 501(c)(3) status (named after the section of the Internal Revenue Code that governs such groups), your gift can offer you a tax deduction. So, for example, if you are in the 25 percent tax bracket and you give $1,000 to a qualified charity, you will be able to deduct $250 from your taxes. (You will need to itemize deductions to gain this tax benefit.) Generally speaking, your maximum deduction is limited to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income.

You might be able expand the reach of your cash gifts through your workplace. Some companies will match some of your contributions to charitable organizations. Also, your employer may allow you to apply for larger grants to support nonprofit groups, especially those in which many employees are actively involved.

Donate appreciated stocks. If you have stocks that have grown significantly in value, you may want to donate them to a charitable group. You will be allowed a charitable deduction for the full fair market value of the gift on the date of the transfer, even if your original cost was only a fraction of today’s value. Furthermore, you will avoid the capital gains taxes you’d have to pay if you sold the stock, provided you’ve held the stock for at least a year.

You don’t have to restrict your giving to charitable groups. If you have children or grandchildren, you might want to provide them with the gift of higher education by contributing to a 529 college savings plan.

A 529 plan offers several benefits. Contribution limits vary from state to state, but are generally quite high – you can accumulate more than $200,000 per beneficiary in many state plans, although special gifting provisions may apply. And you can typically invest in the 529 plan offered by any state, even if you don’t live there, although you might not receive the tax benefits – such as deductions or tax credits – you’d get if you invested in your own state’s plan.

Also, all withdrawals from 529 plans are free from federal income taxes, and possibly from state income taxes, as long as the money is used for a qualified college or graduate expense of the beneficiary you’ve named – typically, your child or grandchild. (Withdrawals for expenses other than qualified education expenditures may be subject to federal, state and penalty taxes.) Be aware, though, that 529 plans may affect financial aid, particularly if you’ve set up a plan for your grandchild, so you might want to consult with a college’s financial aid office before the child heads off to school.

Through your gifts to charitable groups and your family members, you can take the spirit of Giving Day and extend it throughout the holiday season – and even beyond.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors cannot provide tax or legal advice. You should consult your attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation.

World AIDS Day

 It is estimated by the Michigan Department of Community Health that up to 19,000 people in Michigan are known to be living with HIV/AIDS, including an estimated 300 in Berrien County. HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. It stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and can develop when HIV damages the immune system to such an extent that it can no longer fight off a range of infections it would normally cope with.

Unfortunately there is no cure for HIV/AIDS; however, there are great medicines that a person can take to help manage the disease.  With effective medication, people living with HIV can’t pass on the virus to anyone else. This is because HIV medication stops the virus from replicating and can suppress the virus to such low levels that it can no longer be passed on. This is often referred to as being ‘undetectable,’ because the level of HIV in the body is so low that the virus can no longer be detected.

HIV is passed on through sex without a condom or through sharing needles with someone who has detectable levels of HIV. If someone living with HIV responding well to treatment and has an undetectable viral load – they cannot pass the virus on. HIV is often passed on when people don’t know they have it, which is why testing is so important. There is no risk of contracting HIV through day-to-day contact, touching and kissing.

World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1.  World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away; there are still many more things that need to be done to fight this battle.  The red ribbon has been the international symbol for AIDS Awareness since 1991, and was created as a symbol of support for the growing number of people living with HIV in the United States. Take pride in your knowledge and wear a red ribbon on December 1.  Wearing a red ribbon is a simple and powerful way to challenge the stigma and prejudice that surrounds HIV/AIDS.

For more information, visit www.aids.gov or the Berrien County Health Department website at www.bchdmi.org.

Eliminating driver responsibility fees

 Earlier this month, I was proud to join a strong bipartisan majority of my House colleagues in voting for a package of legislation that ends our state’s misguided and ineffective driver responsibility fees. These fees were initiated by politicians in 2003 as a last-minute answer to a budget shortfall that they had created. The fees placed many people in deep debt, took away their ability to drive, and often forced them to drive illegally to support themselves and their families.

This was a bad law that never should have been passed in the first place. Driver responsibility fees did nothing to improve the driving skills of those paying them. The only thing that was improved was the state budget, which was unbalanced and in need of a quick infusion of cash. Because of that, many Michiganders have suffered unnecessarily for the past 14 years.

The bipartisan eight-bill legislative package also provides people with alternative methods to pay their fees until they are eliminated on Oct. 1, 2018, and gives people a chance to regain their driving privileges. People paying the fees, for the most part, could no longer legally drive, so many lost their jobs, or struggled to maintain employment, and were forced to depend on public assistance. Now they can regain their driving privileges and reenter the workforce so that they can earn a living and better provide for their families.

Eliminating bad laws like this is another important step towards ensuring our state’s continued comeback. The bills are House Bills 5040-5046, 5079, and 5080. They now go to the State Senate for consideration.

As always please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance. You can reach my office toll free at 1-800-577-6212 or via email at BethGriffin@house.mi.gov.

Protecting our Great Lakes

 As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, one of my responsibilities is the safety and security of our nation’s oil and gas pipelines. One pipeline we on the committee have been paying close attention to is the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which runs across the Straits of Mackinac. Earlier this month I sat down with Enbridge officials to reiterate to them directly that a spill in our Great Lakes would be catastrophic and completely unacceptable.

Additionally, just this week, it was announced that Enbridge will be required to increase safeguards to Line 5. These include replacing parts of Line 5, temporary shutdowns of Line 5 operations during adverse weather conditions, implementation of new safety features that will allow faster detection and a more immediate response in the event of a spill, and new requirements for Enbridge to undertake a study on the placement of a new pipeline or the existing dual pipelines in a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

This issue is not going away until it gets fixed. Zero tolerance for error is the only thing we will accept along with the highest safety standards in place to ensure the Great Lakes will not be at risk. I look forward to continuing to work with Governor Rick Snyder and the State of Michigan in coordinating a state and federal response. We will stay on the case through completion.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).

Helping patients fight cancer with all types of chemo

 This year nearly 1.7 million cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S.

No one is ever really prepared to hear that they or someone they love has cancer. When it happens to a family member or a close friend, we try to be supportive and help them in any way possible. Unfortunately, I know this all too well. My mother and sister are both breast cancer survivors.

In support of all Michigan cancer patients, I was proud to recently vote for important legislation that would ensure that patients in our state never have to worry about the cost of cancer medications when choosing the best treatment in their fight.

Michigan is the only Great Lakes state and one of only seven states that treats insurance coverage of IV and oral chemotherapy treatments differently.

Although IV therapies are more invasive, they are fully covered under a person’s medical benefit, while oral treatments could cost patients thousands of dollars a month. Most importantly, some cancers can only be treated by oral medications.

If a patient in Michigan needs oral chemotherapy, the critical treatment is currently covered as a prescription benefit. The high out-of-pocket costs can force some patients to choose less effective treatment methods.

Senate Bill 492 would ensure that if a health insurance plan covers oral chemotherapy drugs, the medicine must be covered the same way intravenously or injected anticancer treatments are covered.

This reform is about saving lives and ensuring that Michigan patients have the best kind of medicine available when battling cancer.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.