About 13,000 of the country’s 17,000 Catholic parishes applied for the government’s small-business stimulus program, and about half have so far received the requested funds, according to the church’s group for diocesan fiscal managers.
The multi-trillion-dollar Cares Act, which took effect in mid-April, covers employees’ salaries for private companies and nonprofit organizations through the Small Business Administration. The government money is distributed through banks and is like a loan—except the loan is forgiven if the money is used to pay workers’ salaries.
In the first round of applications, about 10,000 parishes applied, Patrick Markey, executive director of the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, said Thursday. A bit more than 6,000 got their funding requests approved, while 3,000 did not, he said. In the second round—which is still in process—about 6,000 applied. Markey said that total includes roughly half repeat appliers and then 3,000 new ones.
Of the approximately 6,000 Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the country, 2,300 applied for paycheck protection, Markey said, and 1,400 of those got funding in the first round.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says it is not tracking the federal money, and Markey’s group doesn’t have a detailed breakdown to show whether certain types of churches are applying or having more success with their applications.
Markey noted that the U.S. Treasury Department in late April urged businesses and not-for-profits not to apply if they don’t need the money and to return money if they have access to other funding. His group also urged dioceses: “If you don’t need it, don’t apply.”
Some public companies, deep-pocketed chains and prep schools—among others—have come under pressure to return taxpayer money so needier small companies can receive assistance. It’s not yet clear whether the same dynamic will reveal itself in the religious world.
Several other major religious denominations said they don’t have national data on who has applied and received funding. That includes the Southern Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church.
Nancy Davidge, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church, said the way people are applying really varies. In some cases, dioceses are applying. In others, it’s individual churches. In some dioceses, all churches applied, while in others it’s a fraction.
The Jewish Federations of North America has helped thousands of Jewish and other not-for-profits apply for paycheck protection money, said spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar. On April 21, the group surveyed 5,000 people who participated in its webinars; the 1,200 who responded reported that 573 Jewish organizations were approved for money totaling $276 million. Among that group were 219 synagogues, which received just over $50 million in loans, Dinar said.
At the time, she said, another 391 entities had applied and were waiting for a response.
Ryan Burge, a political scientist from Eastern Illinois University who focuses on religiosity, noted that the fastest-growing U.S. houses of worship are nondenominational, which means they have no connection to the resources and advice of a head office during this crisis. Among them are many megachurches, said Burge, who is also pastor of a small American Baptist Church that applied for and received stimulus money.
“Almost all megachurches are bottom up—they’re on their own. They have higher need but less support at the same time,” he said.
Charles Zech, an expert on Catholic finances who founded the Villanova School of Business Center for Church Management, said the pandemic will force a complete overhaul in how Catholics give money. For the most part they give not online, but during Sunday collections. With Mass attendance shut off—and possibly hit by a decrease even when churches open up—the Catholic Church will really be hurting, he said. Dioceses—the regional church’s home office—get on average 60 percent of their funds from parishes, and they will be directly affected as well, he said. Zech predicted that many sparsely attended parishes will be forced to close.
“I think it will happen very soon. This will be the last straw for some parishes that were barely hanging on,” Zech said. “It’s touchy because they’re in the inner city and the church will be accused of closing their eyes to the inner city.”
Markey said as much as the Catholic Church appreciates the paycheck protection funds, in the fall the program will probably be out of money and church officials are very worried about school systems. With many Americans out of work, they probably won’t feel able to afford private school and will move their children into public schools. “It’s a big concern,” he said.
Looking at the hit to Catholic Charities—the social service arm of each diocese—and Catholic hospitals and universities, as well as parishes and dioceses, Markey estimated the projected shortfall in unmet needs across the Catholic Church is now between $700 million and $1 billion.