Public Policy Updates: March 2019

Ralph Forsht
March 2019

Meals Provided to Employees

A new tax has been imposed on meals provided to camp counselors and other staff during the course of their employment. While ACA believes the recent federal tax law changes were not intended by Congress to adversely affect camps, the new law governing employer-provided meals unexpectedly does just that.

As ACA members know, camp employees are generally required to supervise their campers during mealtimes and, therefore, to eat meals together as a part of their employment. Camps have never charged staff for these meals. They have always been a fully deductible part of doing business. Camps subject to federal income tax received a tax deduction for the expenses associated with providing such meals, and the value of the meals was not included in the employees’ taxable compensation.

The new tax law passed in January 2018 has reversed this tax treatment for camps subject to federal tax retroactive to January 1, 2018, by requiring them to conduct a complex valuation of individual meals for employees who are served meals at camp and to calculate the value of such meals, which are now subject to a limited 50-percent deduction as a business expense, with the balance subject to federal taxation. After December 31, 2025, 100 percent of the value of such meals would be subject to taxation and no longer deductible by camps as a business expense. For a typical camp subject to taxation, the tax bill associated with this change could be in the tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Camps need a legislative fix to remedy this meals tax-deductibility issue. ACA’s advocacy team is actively seeking Congressional leaders to champion and support an exemption for camps. ACA’s Government Affairs volunteers and advocates will work diligently to try to secure such an exemption in the new Congress.

Implementing New Federal Background Checks Law

The Child Protection Improvements Act (CPIA) passed in the spring of 2018, and that would enable all camps to access the FBI’s federal background check system. Currently, about one-third of states don’t have access to the comprehensive federal database.

ACA works closely with YMCA-USA and MENTOR (National Mentoring Partnership), and we’ve been working with our allies on Capitol Hill to urge the Department of Justice to implement CPIA as soon as possible. When CPIA was passed in 2018, it stipulated that the Justice Department needed to implement CPIA by March 2019.

New Legislation to Address Outfitter/Guide Permits

Toward the end of the last Congress, a new bipartisan bill — Public Land Recreational Opportunities Improvement Act — was introduced that could help camps that operate on federal land. There are several aspects of this bill that would solve problems that camps have faced for many years in regard to outfitter/guide permits.

One of the biggest provisions within the legislation stipulates that the public land involved cannot charge fees for activities that are unrelated to the time spent on the public lands. The Forest Service has a confusing fee process, which basically says they can charge 3 percent of the revenue of an outfitter/guide for a trip in the forest. This is one thing if they charge 3 percent for the days a camper is actually on the forest land. But a number of camps in multiple places have been charged 3 percent of the entire camp tuition, even though the camper may only be on the forest land for four days of a month-long term. This interpretation makes use of the public lands prohibitively expensive. Clarifying this fee issue would be beneficial.

Other aspects that are helpful include provisions for speeding up the NEPA process. NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) requires multiple environmental studies before any type of public lands use can be approved, and these studies often drag on for years, making any use of public lands ponderously slow to approve.

Another positive provision is for a camp to voluntarily (and temporarily) “return” unused user days without endangering the future allotment of user days. Currently, the general rule has been that if you don’t use all of the days you are allotted, you lose them.

ACA will be working in the new Congress to generate bipartisan support for this important legislation.

Questions? Reach out to Ralph Forsht, public policy consultant for the American Camp Association, ralphforsht@gmail.com.

Ralph Forsht is the government relations consultant for the American Camp Association (ACA). Forsht oversees ACA’s work on federal public policy. For nearly 20 years, Forsht has been a dedicated advocate for children and families. Previously, Forsht served as senior vice president at First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. At First Focus Campaign for Children, Forsht worked on federal family tax provisions, children’s healthcare, and child poverty. Forsht was also a senior vice president at America’s Promise, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping children and communities. At America’s Promise, Forsht led the team of advocates championing public policy priorities at the federal, state and local levels. Forsht began his career on the staff the US Senate Budget Committee.

Ralph Forsht contact info: ralphforsht@gmail.com 703-944-2739

Photo courtesy of Camp Killoqua, Everett, WA