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Implementing Disaster Relief Through Tax Expenditures

December 2006

An Assessment of the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Measures

This article appears in the New York University Law Review, December 2006 Issue: Volume 81, Number 6.

Over the past several decades, Congress has turned increasingly to tax expenditures rather than to direct outlay programs to implement social welfare programs. Such a trend creates economic distortions and has proven disadvantageous to taxpayers in lower socioeconomic classes. The newest twist is in the area of disaster relief. Unprecedented before 2001, tax relief targeted to a disaster in a specific geographic region has now been established on two occasions-in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This Note argues that, in a disaster, both the vulnerability of lower-income taxpayers and the weaknesses of the Internal Revenue Code as an instrument for social programs are amplified. This problem was particularly acute after Hurricane Katrina. Congress should therefore reconsider the current trend toward using tax expenditures rather than direct relief in such situations, or alternately structure other relief to correct for its shortcomings.

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Meredith Stead
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