MINEOLA NY – New York is renowned for its generosity and big-hearted spirit, and every year, millions of New Yorkers earmark a portion of their taxable income in support of a litany of charitable causes. However, a report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has spotlighted a disconcerting reality: nearly $14 million directed towards causes like breast cancer research and veteran homelessness through state tax return checkoffs has remained unspent.
Arguably, less than half of the 27 state-approved check-off funds have been disbursed to their respective causes over the past five fiscal years. This has resulted in a staggering $13.7 million of tax return donations lying dormant, money that was intended for those in need as per the intention of the 2022-23 fiscal year filers.
“Donors expect their funds to serve the causes they support,” DiNapoli said in an impassioned response to the findings. “Agencies need to comply with reporting requirements to provide greater clarity on why spending from the funds is lagging.”
The report divulged that a minimum of $1 million in each of the following checkoff causes remained unused: volunteers for firefighter recruitment and retention; support for homeless veterans; Veterans remembrance and cemetery maintenance; breast cancer and prostate cancer research, and promotion for organ and tissue donations.
Of particular anguish is that no funds were funneled into the Veterans Home Assistance Fund. Five veterans’ homes, including the respected Long Island State Veterans Home, received no disbursements. The balance for this essential fund stood at $363,714 by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year.
The search for answers leads to the unresponsive New York State Taxation and Finance Department, which has remained silent on the issue.
The report unearthed more stunning revelations: the most substantial unspent amount was specifically allocated to prostate cancer research, with an unutilized $3.17 million. A further $2.56 million initially directed towards breast cancer research lay untouched.
Tax-return check-offs supporting a variety of causes such as efforts for missing and exploited children, military family relief, libraries, food bank contributions, firearm violence research, and the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center have yet to see full utilization of their allocated funds.
Highlighting a lack of accountability, DiNapoli takes note of the sparse reporting despite annual reports being legally mandatory to the State Legislature and Comptroller’s Office. Conclusively, he emphasizes the need for promptness and transparency in explaining the use of funds and their delayed or non-disbursement.
Check-off funds are the brainchild of the legislature. In the 2023 legislative session alone, nine novel causes found favor, with two — diabetes research and childhood cancer research — being enacted. Nevertheless, despite the swell in the number of causes now topping 27, DiNapoli reports a stagnation in total donations.
This revelatory research underscores a systemic paradox within New York’s culture of generosity: the goodwill of New Yorkers is potent, but there remains a pronounced disconnect in translating this generosity into effective change. There must be resolution and accountability to assure donors that their financial sacrifices are not in vain but are indeed forging a difference in the state of the world.
Moreover, this report stands as a call to action to tax-related state agencies and the governing bodies to bridge the gap between intention and delivery. Faced with such stark realities, New York — the epicenter of financial activity and the birthplace of countless charities — must revisit its tax return donation model to enhance transparency, promote trust, and foster a culture of charitable giving that indeed does justice to the Golden Rule of philanthropy: that the donor’s dollar makes a tangible difference.