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Tax Checkoff for After-School Programs

Maryland residents may be able to donate directly to public after-school programs on their tax returns next year, if a bill is passed this session in the state legislature.

The legislation, written by the Maryland Out of School Time Network (MOST), would add a checkoff item on tax returns enabling individuals to donate money for programs that support K-12 students in after-school hours. These donations would go into an activity fund used to support the Maryland Afterschool and Summer Learning Activity Program, an umbrella initiative able to award grants to after-school and out-of school- time organizations that meet certain standards. The grant-award process would be directly administered by the governor's office.

"The fund would provide a nice opportunity to do some public-awareness campaigns around tax time each year and generate some new resources for programs," said Ellie Mitchell, director of MOST, an organization that supports after-school-friendly programming and policies in Maryland. "We're thinking of it as a start in the right direction."

If successful, Mitchell added, the checkoff could generate significant revenue for out-of-school-time programs in Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay and Endangered Species Fund, which has been on Maryland tax returns for some time, has raised roughly $1.2 million annually the past few years, she said.

According to the Afterschool Alliance, Vermont is the only other state that has used income-tax checkoffs for after-school program funding. Vermont residents can make donations on their tax returns to the Vermont Children's Trust Fund, which awards grants to youth-support and -enrichment programs, including after-school programs. Tax donations to the fund have averaged roughly $75,000 a year since the checkoff was added as a line item in 1996.

MOST is also working on another bill to bring back the state tax on unhealthy snacks, like potato chips, which existed from 1992-1997. Sixty percent of the money generated from the new "Combating Childhood Obesity Fund" would go to the state's general fund with the other 40 percent allocated to a grant program that would support healthy-lifestyle initiatives in after-school programs.

"This is going to be a tough one," Mitchell said of reinstating the unhealthy-snacks tax. "But, on average, it takes two to three years to pass legislation, and we want to get the conversation started."

She estimated the tax could generate at least $25 million in revenue by 2012 if adopted.

More than 20 states currently tax unhealthy snack food.

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