As a part of the US government’s economic relief plan for the coronavirus pandemic, loans were offered to small businesses so they could stay afloat during this difficult time. However, many small business owners who attempted to get funding through the federal Paycheck Protection Program found that the money had dried up within a week of the program’s launch. It turned out that large publicly traded corporations were the first to gain access to the loans because they had teams of lawyers on standby who already had a working relationship with the government.
Large corporations like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse received millions in PPP loans, but were later forced to return the money after a massive public outcry was sparked by their applications. Now the program has come under fire yet again, after it was revealed that over 9,000 Catholic churches were approved for the loans. Catholic churches don’t even pay taxes, which many people feel should disqualify them from the program.
However, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, “Churches (including temples, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship), integrated auxiliaries of churches, and conventions or associations of churches qualify for PPP and EIDL loans as long as they meet the requirements of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and all other PPP and EIDL requirements.”
Churches have defended the decision to apply for the loans by suggesting that it is the only way they can keep people on payroll.
Pat Markey, the executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, an association of finance officers from Catholic dioceses told CBS that, “The PPP isn’t about the federal government assisting houses of worship or churches. PPP is about keeping people on payrolls and a large segment of our society is the not for profit world. And a large segment of that society 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.”
However, the Vatican, which is the global head of the Catholic Church, is one of the most wealthy organizations in the world. While their exact holdings have been called “impossible to calculate“, bankers estimate that the Vatican has been 10 and 15 billion dollars in cash, land, and investments alone. Protestant and Jewish religious organizations were also granted loans through the PPP, but to a far lesser degree.
Image Credit: Yuval Helfman