For forty-five years, AARO’s work helping Americans abroad has never stopped. Even accomplishments as fundamental as founder Phyllis Michaux’s improbable success persuading Congress to let Americans overseas vote have rarely been savored – each victory is soon overtaken by new challenges.
Likewise, every disappointment is soon replaced by renewed determination by our members. Who are we? The people who care enough to donate their time, talent and/or their treasure to help other Americans overseas. Compared to the estimated 8 million Americans living overseas, we may be the few, but, like the Marine Corps, we are the proud.
The year that passed since our last General Assembly was mixed: for every “up”, it seemed there was a “down” … and yet I would classify 2018-19 as a “vintage year”: one that provided immediate satisfaction in a number of areas and, more important, one that promised even greater success in the future.
Hails and one Farewell
This was thanks in part to the talents of two relatively new members of our Board of Directors who hit the ground running and then kept on going, Victoria Ferauge and Charlie Crouch. I’ll elaborate on what these two accomplished, but first, a reminder: one need not join the AARO Board of Directors in order to make a difference, indeed a big difference. Over the past year we were blessed by the tireless activism of three other AARO members: John Fredenberger, Eric Fenster, and Monte Silver.
- John Fredenberger’s inspiring leadership of a voter-registration drive, seconded by AARO’s Secretary Pam Combastet, reaped returns far beyond expectations. Not only did hundreds of people sign-up to vote, many of those newly-empowered citizens discovered AARO for the first time, as did some of the volunteers who came out to support the campaign. The American Embassy in Paris also put its resources into this effort by conducting voter-registration training sessions.
These efforts paid off, as there was a record high turnout of overseas voters last November, no doubt thanks in part to AARO’s improved presence on the web, our video-taped talks given by political experts, and our debate between representatives from Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas.
- Eric Fenster, along with Board member Charlie Crouch and our Treasurer Jenifer Ehreth, worked closely with our health plan partner MSH to improve this unique member benefit.
In order to help the many Americans living in France who have become entangled – or should I say clawed – by France’s health insurance and tax regulatory regime known as “PUMA”, Eric has gone beyond simply getting the word out about PUMA to our Members and other concerned Americans; he has mastered the arcane world of URSSAF and French social security law and he even wrote a brief challenging the legitimacy of PUMA before France’s Constitutional Court.
- New member Monte Silver, along with fellow Tax Committee member Nora Muller, led a spirited campaign to protect overseas American small business owners from the negative consequences of the corporate tax reform passed by the Republican-led Congress late in 2017. To cut a long story short, Congress’s efforts to tax more effectively the corporate global giants – a system known as GILTI – had the unforeseen consequence of driving small overseas American business to the brink of bankruptcy. How inimical to the Trump administration’s stated goal of boosting America’s ability to compete overseas! News outlets such as Reuters and the New York Times noted AARO’s efforts. The Treasury Department suspended application of some of the most devastating features – temporarily. Then, less than a year later, VICTORY! As Monte put it in a celebratory email:
“We are GILTI no more!”
Yes indeed, as of March 4, 2019, the Treasury Department granted permanent relief to small businesses run by overseas Americans … but of course with a few devils in the details, such as the so-called “Transition Tax” – see your tax professional. Monte keeps on fighting until all burdens have been lifted.
Now for the accomplishments of two relatively new Board Members:
- Charlie Crouch, our Silicon Valley veteran. Charlie has been the key to making AARO’s use of the internet more effective, by working on AARO’s own website, but also by analysing the best means for growing membership by capitalizing on one of our unique features, the AARO Health Insurance plan. Charlie is also now looking at how AARO might realise Board Member Marc Levinson’s proposed project to create an AARO prize for young Americans who have best improved life for other people in an overseas community – a tip of the cap to Phyllis Michaux’s remark that overseas Americans are the “unknown ambassadors” able to act on America’s core beliefs for the benefit of all.
- Victoria Ferauge, our Vice-President for Communications. Along with Charlie Crouch and a few more hard-working volunteers, Victoria made happen what I believe was one of the most important undertakings in the history of AARO: the Midterm Election Project. AARO invited all Congressional candidates in the nine states with the largest number of overseas voters to share their views on our issues, not just the ones back home. The response rate exceeded expectations, and AARO’s web traffic soared. The strategy is clear: channel the eight million Americans overseas into a voting block that can no longer be ignored. AARO is your town hall, wherever you are on the planet. Can’t wait for 2020!
- And, last but not least, our newest Board Member, who joined us earlier this month, please welcome our new Chairman of the Membership Committee, Kristi Carroll Lorin. A member of AARO for over thirty years, Kristi is looking for volunteers to join her committee. No particular skill or experience is required to get involved, and no task is more important for the AARO. Without the dues and contributions from our members, all our work helping Americans abroad would stop.
I have said it before, but I must say it again: We all know many overseas Americans who are good people and good citizens, and yet, somehow, these good people are not members AARO. If each of us could persuade just one other such person to join AARO, our membership would double. That would give us the funds we need to make Mark Levinson’s proposed AARO prizes for the best young “unknown ambassadors” a reality. It would also enable us to expand our advocacy efforts, voter registration drives, community outreach, and so on.
It only takes one for each of us, so please choose a person you would like to urge to join our association. Then go out and get that person under our tent.
We have a retiring member of the Board, and I would be remiss not to recognize her many years of service. Thank you, Marylou Daniels. Marylou was particularly active in communication. We wish her best.
Advocacy, Banking, Tax, Citizenship, Voting and other AARO Work
Time does not permit me to go into all the details of the Advocacy, Banking, Tax, Citizenship, Voting and other AARO work. Please read more about that in the materials attached to my own report.
I will only touch on a couple of items that could bring big benefits in the not-too-distant future:
- Responding to their invitation, AARO has joined the American Chamber of Commerce in France as a non-profit organisation. This allows up to five designated AARO members to participate in ACCF activities in important areas such as taxation and banking. Moreover, it lets us rub shoulders with business leaders who might turn out to be important supporters of AARO projects such as Mark Levinson’s proposal that AARO give out prizes for the best “unknown ambassadors” amongst young Americans abroad.
- Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a bill. Congressman Holding, a Republican from North Carolina, has introduced legislation in Congress that would abolish citizenship based taxation. For a lot of you out there in this room, or watching this General Assembly over the internet, this is the Holy Grail. The bill is not perfect – no bill in Congress ever is – but it sings music to the ears of overseas Americans fed up with the heavy burden of double compliance and – all too often – double taxation. AARO’s Board has endorsed the bill, and it will be a centerpiece of our annual Overseas Americans Week advocacy trip scheduled for June 10th of the year. Even sooner, our VP for Advocacy, Fred Einbinder, and the Chairman of our Tax Committee, Tim Ramier, are headed to London at the end of this month to meet with Congressman Holding.
Meanwhile, “back at the ranch”, before I conclude, I would be foolish not to salute all the good work happening thanks to AARO’s Treasurer Jenifer Ehreth, Assistant Treasurer Marilyn Yakowitz, VP for Operations/Administration Frank Priest, and our talented office manager Christine Cathrine. They watch each other like hawks, but also work as a team to make sure that AARO can deliver the maximum “bang for the buck” from our members’ dues and donations.
Speaking of donations, as you have heard from our Treasurer, AARO essentially broke even in the 2018 fiscal year. However, were it not for those who joined our “Founders Circle”, in other words made a gift to AARO, we would have finished some five thousand Euros in the red.
Dear donors, you made the difference. I am so grateful.
Continuing a tradition started by the immediate AARO past-president, the late and much-missed Lucy Laederich, I would like to close my report the same way I did last year: by quoting the great anthropologist and thinker Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Respectfully submitted 10 April 2019 by Neil Kearney, President.