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Thousands of Catholic parishes find relief in government payroll loans

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CNA Staff, May 8, 2020 / 04:15 pm MT (CNA).- As parishes and dioceses across the country deal with a drop in collections and the prospects of layoffs amid the pandemic, many parishes have managed to avail themselves of government loans designed to cover eight weeks of payroll expenses.

CBS News reported Friday that an estimated 12,000-13,000 of the 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. had applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) payroll loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA), and 9,000 so far had received them.

Guidance from the SBA on eligibility for the loans states that “no otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”

Religious organizations are eligible for the loans as long as they meet the requirements of Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit and employ 500 or fewer people, the SBA said.

“The PPP isn’t about the federal government assisting houses of worship or churches,” Pat Markey, the executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, told CBS News.

“PPP is about keeping people on payrolls, and a large segment of our society [in] the not for profit world…are churches and houses of worship. And they have people on payrolls too. So, if what this is about is keeping people on payrolls, then we all should have availability to do that.”

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference did not reply by press time to CNA’s request for additional comment.

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act March 27 to help relieve the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The CARES Act initially authorized some $350 billion in loans to small businesses, intended to allow them to continue to pay their employees. The loans were given on a first come, first serve basis.

The second round of funding, with some $310 billion in additional funds available, began April 27.

The loans were capped at $10 million, were open to businesses with fewer than 500 employees per location, and were intended to cover two months of payroll costs.

The federal government promised to forgive the loans if a business used at least 75% of the funds to maintain its payroll at “pre-pandemic levels” for eight weeks after the loan is disbursed, the New York Times reports.

The remaining money could be used only to pay for certain expenses, such as a mortgage, rent, and utilities, according to the Times.

A survey of Protestant pastors by LifeWay Research found that about 40% had applied for PPP loans with more than half of them reporting being approved.

NPR reports that synagogues have also applied for government funding, though in a smaller proportion— of nearly 4,000 synagogues in the United States, about 250 were approved for PPP loans in the first round of lending, according to surveys by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

The PPP has been subject to some criticism since its launch, including from those who say business owners with criminal records have been excluded from the program thus far.

In addition, several large companies, such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, have received multi-million dollar loans through the program. Some of these large companies, such as Shake Shack, have since returned their loans.

Two New York dioceses— Rochester and Buffalo— are suing the Small Business Administration for access to PPP funds, after they were denied loans because of their bankruptcy status.

An SBA rule stipulated that the funds would not go to bankruptcy debtors. Both the dioceses of Rochester and Buffalo have filed for bankruptcy in the past several months, after being named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed under New York Child Victims Protection Act.

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