With charitable contributions declining nationwide for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle are seeking a new way to encourage donations to many of the beneficial programs intrinsically linked to New Jersey. The Bergen County legislators have introduced a bill (A-2727) that would provide easy, online access to the special funds listed on New Jersey’s gross income tax return forms.

“In this day and age, it’s just common sense to let people donate online and not just on their tax returns,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “If we can provide residents with the knowledge and access to lend a helping hand, I have no doubt that we can increase support for many of New Jersey’s worthwhile programs.”

“We know that New Jerseyans have big hearts and, if given the opportunity, they always rise to the occasion,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “With more and more people filing their taxes online, it’s important that we take advantage of these tools to promote the worthwhile programs near and dear to our state, which are in need of support.”

Currently, only the New Jersey Children’s Trust Fund to Prevent Child Abuse, one of a handful of specific tax check-off items listed on New Jersey’s gross income tax return, allows for online donations. This bill would require the state Division of Taxation to create a separate online donation form for any of the special funds designated under current law, including the NJ Endangered Wildlife Fund, the NJ Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Fund, the NJ Breast Cancer Research Fund, the state’s Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Program, and the U.S.S. New Jersey Educational Museum Fund.

According to a June report from the Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, total charitable contributions nationwide declined for the first time since 1987, down 3.6 percent in 2009. It was also just the second decline in contributions since the foundation began publishing annual reports in 1956.

Roughly 50 to 60 percent of organizations that provided data to the Giving USA Foundation reported lower gift receipts in 2009 than in 2008. Hit particularly hard were charities that promote education and the arts, which suffered two consecutive years of decline. They lost 8.8 percent and 8.7 percent of donations, respectively, between 2007 and 2009.

Johnson and Vainieri Huttle hope the bill will receive swift attention in order to help increase donations and temper the devastating effects of the recession.