ATLANTA – As the 2022 General Assembly session approaches, efforts are being made to raise the annual cap on the state’s rural hospital tax credit from $ 60 million to $ 100 million.
In 2021, the program hit that cap in August, giving rural lawmakers and rural hospital advocates reason to believe more money will be needed in the coming year. This is especially true given the pressure the omicron variant of COVID-19 is putting on hospitals as the New Year begins.
“2022 is going to be an infuriating year to say the least,” said Jimmy Lewis, CEO of Cumming-based HomeTown Health, which represents Georgia’s rural hospitals. “We will find ourselves strapped for cash in the future.”
The Georgia Rural Hospitals Tax Credit was launched in 2016 and hit the cap of $ 60 million for the first time in 2018 after the General Assembly increased the value of the credit to 100%, providing donors a dollar-for-dollar tax benefit.
But contributions fell in 2019 and again last year after the Internal Revenue Service said individual taxpayers could no longer claim an income tax deduction for charitable donations if they did. a state tax credit for the same contribution.
At the same time, a state audit found that donations to the rural hospital tax credit program did not necessarily go to the hospitals most in need. The report called for greater accountability and transparency.
The fortunes of the program began to change when a follow-up audit released early last year found that hospitals and taxpayers were complying with the law governing the tax credit.
Additionally, Lewis said, rural hospital administrators became familiar with the changes to the IRS by learning how to market the value of the program beyond the tax benefit to contributors. This helps donors to direct their contributions to a specific rural hospital in their communities.
“This is a 1 to 1 donation to your hospital,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t change how much tax you pay, but who gets it. “
This message hits home not only to potential donors but to rural lawmakers. The Georgia House Rural Development Council approved raising the tax credit cap in its list of recommendations for 2022 released in early December.
“Since its inception, the Rural Hospital Tax Credit has injected millions of dollars into rural Georgia’s health systems and prevented the closure of critical hospitals in rural communities,” the council report said. “Taxpayers consistently donate funds that help stabilize these critical health facilities. “
Rural hospitals have also been able to raise federal COVID-19 relief funds since the coronavirus pandemic hit Georgia almost two years ago.
But Lewis said the money was used to offset the impact of the additional burden COVID-19 has placed on rural hospitals.
“This money came right out the door, almost dollar for dollar,” he said.
In addition, the American Recovery Plan Act that President Joe Biden enacted last March restricts hospital funding to capital projects, Lewis said.
“It’s not operational,” he said. “The challenge we have is the money for the operations. “
Despite the influx of federal dollars, Cuthbert and Commerce hospitals closed in late 2020, bringing to eight the number of rural Georgia hospitals that have closed in the past decade. Only Texas and Tennessee suffered more hospital closures during this period.
Lewis said he was optimistic the General Assembly will see fit to increase the limit on the Georgia rural hospital tax credit during the legislative session that begins Jan. 10. He called the support of the House Rural Development Council a positive sign.
“I think enough people have realized that this is the cleanest way to send money to hospitals,” he said. “Suddenly people realize the value of this. “