Do Amish People Have To Pay Taxes?

Of the estimated 330,270 Amish people who lived in North America in 2018, roughly 63 percent of them resided in just three U.S. states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. So the odds are pretty high that most Americans won't come across many — if any — Amish people in person.  Nonetheless, many Americans have a clear picture in their minds of what the Amish are like. 

That picture is painted with a broad brush, depicting the Amish as a monolith. They're depicted as ultra-pious, blandly clad people with big beards, big bonnets, and no modern technology or electricity who probably spend all day sweating profusely as they churn butter and rap like Weird Al Yankovic. They lead a harsh, humble existence, but the upside is that their faith exempts them from paying taxes. Except for when they do. It's complicated.

As it turns out, some of what we think about these plain folk is just plain wrong, and we don't just mean the part about sweaty rapping.  As Penn State University pointed out, there are about two dozen Amish subgroups, "each with varying degrees of conservatism." Some, like the Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites, drive vehicles and use public electricity. And none of the subgroups are completely tax exempt. In fact, many Amish "pay school taxes twice — for both public and private Amish schools," according to USA Today. They also pay income, property, and sales taxes.

Per the journal Healthcare, the Amish are generally excused from paying taxes that go toward Social Security, Medicare, and by extension the Affordable Care Act, or what's more colloquially referred to as "Obamacare."  As a result, they don't receive related benefits for any of those services. That provision didn't exist until 1965 (and 2010 in the case of Obamacare) and only applies to Amish sects that existed since December 31, 1950. And even that exemption has exceptions. As professor Donald Kraybill explains in his book The Riddle of Amish Culture, Amish people who work for non-Amish employers do pay Social Security taxes, as do Amish business owners with non-Amish employees.

How did the exemptions come about in the first place?  According to Kraybill, "There was an Amish guy who refused to pay Social Security. IRS agents confiscated his horses while he was out in the field plowing." This wasn't a stand against taxation itself. Rather, the Amish have a religious obligation to take care of each other. Since Social Security and Medicare would prevent their communities from shouldering the whole load, many Amish people object to receiving those benefits and thus object to paying for them. 

Congress granted the tax exemptions, provided that the Amish had "a reasonable means of caring for their own elderly or dependent members." So the Amish established their own hospital funds, which community members pay into. When that's not enough to cover medical bills, they auction donated furniture, food, livestock, and other goods to raise additional funds. So not only do the Amish pay taxes, they also pay for their own healthcare. And from the sound of things, they may have a better healthcare plan than many non-Amish Americans.