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America's Great Outdoors, Final LWCF Letters, New Hiring & Insurance Benefits

Advocates Alert: March 30, 2010

We're excited to share the news that the Obama Administration's long-awaited initiative for America's Great Outdoors will officially kick off next month!

Land Trusts to Attend White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors

POST-CONFERENCE UPDATE: President Barack Obama delivered welcome remarks at the conference and was followed shortly by the Alliance's own western policy manager, Lynne Sherrod who spoke on a working lands panel moderated by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  Mr. Obama signed a Presidential memorandum calling for a report on America's Great Outdoors by November 15th. The participation of some three dozen land trusts at the conference is the first step in this process, which will eventually be open to everybody. We're collecting transcripts, releases, photos and video for distribution next week, but for now you can read the memorandum and the President's remarks (in which he specifically mentions land trusts!) on the White House site.

On Friday, April 16, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, and Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture will host a White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors, kicking off a process though which land trusts can help design the next generation of incentives to protect America's treasured landscapes.  Land Trust Alliance president Rand Wentworth, executive vice president Mary Pope Hutson, and at least three dozen land trust leaders from around the country have been invited and will attend.  We anticipate additional opportunities for land trust participation in the months ahead. Please email policy@lta.org if you've been invited and plan to attend.

The press release announcing the conference includes encouraging remarks about protecting not just parks, but also America's working farm, ranch and forest lands.  In the months ahead we'll need your help reminding the Administration that land trusts are the experts in this arena, and that this effort should include not just enhancements of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but also farm bill conservation programs and tax incentives for private land conservation.  We will keep you informed as this exciting process develops.

Amazing Surge Secures 44 Signers on Senate LWCF/Forest Legacy Letter

Given everything that was on the Senate's agenda last week, we were astonished to see an additional 29 senators join the LWCF/Forest Legacy letter in just a few days.  Ultimately, the letter secured 44 signers, just two short of last year, in far less time.  We simply couldn't have gotten there without your help!

As reported last week, the House letter secured 114 signatures.

Now, we need your help saying thank you.  Please view the Senate letter, House letter, or the signers chart to see if your Members of Congress signed-on.  If so, please take a moment to call today (Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121).  Thanking their environmental aide is a great start, but you can also ask if they'll be hosting any public events over the next two weeks where you could thank them in person.  Even if the answer is no, it's a great excuse to ask for an in-district meeting or site visit over the Memorial Day Recess, May 29-June 6.

New Incentives Can Help Land Trusts Hire Staff and Provide Insurance

When designing incentives for employers, Congress all too often forgets that tax credits are of little use to tax-exempt organizations, which employ about 10% of the American workforce.  Fortunately, thanks in large part to the work of Independent Sector, Congress recently enacted some clever new incentives that could help land trusts and other non-profits hire staff and provide health insurance for their employees.

Did you know that the health care bill tax credits for small businesses that offer health insurance are also available to non-profit organizations?  The new healthcare law allows tax-exempt entities to apply those credits against taxes withheld from payroll.  (Your employees still get credit for their witholding, but you get to keep some of the money!)  For years 2010 through 2013, non-profits with fewer than 25 employees and average wages below $50,000 may take a credit for up to 25 percent of the employer contribution to health insurance.  Beginning in 2014, the credit will rise to 35 percent for small non-profits that purchase coverage through the health insurance exchanges.  Click here to read more from Independent Sector.

Land trusts fortunate enough to be in a position to add staff may benefit from the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, enacted on March 18th.  Employers who hire unemployed workers this year (after Feb. 3) may qualify for a 6.2-percent payroll tax incentive, in effect exempting them from the employer share of Social Security taxes on wages paid to these workers after March 18th.  The new employees will have to sign an affidavit stating that they did not work more than 40 hours during the 60-day period they were unemployed.  Click here to read more from the IRS.


Two Gubernatorial Candidates to Address Pennsylvania Land Trust Conference

Finally, we'd like to congratulate the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association on securing appearances from two leading candidates for Governor, Dan Onorato and Joe Hoeffel, at their annual conference!  Such appearances at the height of a campaign are a sure sign of the growing clout of the Pennsylvania land conservation community.  Click here for more on the Pennsylvania Conference.

Inviting candidates to speak at an event is a great way to ensure you'll be on their agenda once they're in office, but to avoid the appearance of an impermissible endorsement, it's important to invite all serious candidates to events of equivalent significance and to handle their appearances in an even-handed manner.  For example, the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association took the prudent step of stating that "all gubernatorial candidates have been invited," right in their announcement.  For more helpful advice on lobbying as a non-profit organization, see our page on Nonprofit Lobbying Resources.

Thanks for helping!

P.S.- If you're looking for news on an extension of the enhanced easement incentive, we're afraid there isn't much to report. See our April 9th alert for the latest information on that front.

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