By Stephen Smoot
Five years ago, State Senator Robert Karnes, along with State Senators Dave Sypolt of Preston County and Patricia Rucker from Jefferson, led the fight to establish a tax credit for farmers who wish to donate to food banks.
This year, Karnes and Rucker are joined by Mike Woeful, Senate Minority Leader representing Cabell County, to expand the original program. Supporters include the West Virginia Farm Bureau, among other bills “of interest to agricultural producers and rural West Virginia.”
The original legislation, passed in 2017, established a credit of 10% of the value of donated produce not exceeding $2,500 in the taxable year. Senators modeled the bill after a similar program in Kentucky. Additionally, it allowed the credit to be used against either personal income tax or the corporate net income tax.
If passed, the legislation would also change the language of the current law regarding the cap on tax credit payouts. The bill states “no more than $200,000 of tax credits may be allocated by the department in any fiscal year.” Current state law states “allocated to the department.” The legislation also states that “the department shall allocate the tax credits in the order the donation forms are received.”
Two years later, Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia State Commissioner of Agriculture, encouraged farmers to take advantage of the credit. He said “only a handful of producers take advantage of the program. We need more farmers to step up to the challenge by donating to West Virginia food banks.”
Leonhardt also, as a state senator supporting a similar bill in 2016, shared that “our state has a proud tradition of helping our fellowman, and our state’s farmers produce the best local food. It’s good policy to promote fresh healthy food and to give our farmers an incentive to donate.”
The current bill proposes “raising the limit on the tax credit from $2,500 to $5,000, and providing that the credit apply retroactively to January 1, 2023.” Additionally, if the amount of the credit exceeded the tax liability, farmers may carry the excess over to cover up to four subsequent years, “unless sooner used.” The amount of the credit equals 30% of the value of donated edible products.
Donations to statewide food banks are crucial to organizations such as Christian Assistance Network in Franklin. To supplement donations, they also make purchases from food banks to maintain supplies of food available for needy families and individuals.
Late last year, West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported “as high prices force more people to ask for help to put food on the table, food pantries across the state are feeling the strain as well.
Eric Peyatt from Mountaineer Food Bank told West Virginia Public Broadcasting that “we’ve been able to really work with a lot of farmers lately and get some perishable items, such as our produce.” He added that “we’ve been running a lot of our mobile pantries with produce and of course dairy items as well.”