By U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo
When some in the Lower and Middle Keys lost everything to Hurricane Irma’s 130 miles-per-hour winds and 10-foot storm surge, I knew perhaps the greatest devastation would be the financial strain on individuals, families, and small entrepreneurs whose property or livelihoods had taken a direct hit.
When I first joined the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee last year, I wanted to be an advocate for South Florida priorities. In addition to continuous robust funding for disaster relief and improved coordination between local, state, and federal authorities that remain instrumental in the recovery effort, I knew my position on the Committee provided a unique opportunity to help South Florida recoup some of the financial losses we had suffered as a result of the storm.
Together with Chairman Kevin Brady from Texas, we introduced and passed tax relief for disaster survivors in South Florida and across the country, ensuring they would be able to write-off some of the losses and costs related to the storms, wildfires, and flooding we saw last year. I was incredibly proud to see my colleagues from both sides of the aisle support the legislation and get it quickly signed into law.
The bill took several steps to help American families and communities recovering from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria including:
- Expanding the deduction for personal casualty losses by eliminating income requirements to qualify and the requirement taxpayers must itemize deductions to access this tax relief;
- Allowing hurricane survivors penalty-free access to retirement funds and flexibility to pull loans from their retirement plans;
- Suspending limitations on the deduction for charitable contributions — not only encouraging generosity from across the country, but also rewarding individuals and local businesses who were contributing to charities to help their neighbors in need;
- Providing a tax credit for up to $2,400 per employee for disaster-affected employers to pay their employees; and
- Allowing taxpayers to refer to their earned income from 2016 to ensure those who did suffer wage losses could still make the most of tax deductions like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit.
As Tax Day approaches and returns start coming back, I know the steps we took through Disaster Tax Relief will alleviate some of the financial strain individuals, families, and local businesses are still trying to overcome.
If you’re in need of assistance preparing or filing your taxes, you may qualify for free assistance from a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program preparer. My staff will have preparers on site at our free tax preparation and filing assistance mobile office hour on Thursday, April 5 from 4-6 p.m. at the Islamorada Library. If you can’t make it, please call my office at 305-222-0160 and we’ll work to connect you with someone at another time.