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Churches can tap into their share of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act

Small Business Administration will soon be accepting applications through June 30

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Churches and other nonprofit organizations will soon be able to apply for forgivable loans as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Churches and other nonprofit organizations are eligible for their portion of the $350 billion in aid, the same as small businesses, as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress last week and signed into law by President Donald Trump Friday.

Of significant interest to churches that have seen a downturn in giving as a result of congregants not being able to worship in person are the loans under the Paycheck Protection Program — many of the loans forgivable, so long as churches and worshiping communities maintain employment levels.

According to a guide published by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, the PPP will provide cash-flow assistance through 100 percent federally guaranteed loans to employers who maintain their payroll during this emergency. If employers, including churches and nonprofits, maintain their payroll, the loans will be forgiven. Eligible entities can apply if they were harmed by COVID-19 between Feb. 15 and June 30. The program is retroactive to Feb. 15 in order to help bring employees who have already been laid off back onto payrolls.

Allowable costs include payroll, the continuation of health care benefits, interest payments on mortgage obligations, rent and utilities.

Financial analysts say the Small Business Administration probably won’t be ready to process applications for the Paycheck Protection Program for several weeks.


The Rev. Chris Iosso is coordinator of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. (Contributed photo)

The Rev. Chris Iosso, coordinator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, cited reports adopted by previous General Assemblies following other calamitous financial downturns as indicators that it’s the economic system itself that’s in need of reforming — a message that’s been repeated by the denomination’s highest ecclesial body for many years.

One example: Following the Great Recession of 2008-10, the 220th General Assembly (2012) adopted the report, “World of Hurt, Word of Life: Renewing God’s Communion in the Work of Economic Reconstruction.”

“One key understanding” in that report, Iosso said, “was that the economic crisis revealed the spiritual rot, seen most clearly in the high levels of inequality that effectively generate poverty.”

The report “looked at more ‘bottom up’ ways to build a more durable and healthy economy for families, neighbors, and future generations, based on investing in good jobs, rather than further ‘financializing’ our economy,” Iosso said.

Then, and even more so now, Iosso said, “the church faces the challenge of being a middle class body when the middle class itself is being squeezed, and keeping up its prophetic solidarity with those who will be most hurt by the great contraction in economic activity” brought about by the coronavirus.

In 2014, the 221st General Assembly adopted a report on reforming the nation’s tax policy, “Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age.” In his introduction to that report, the Rev. Gradye Parsons, then Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), wrote it’s a “core belief of our Reformed Protestant tradition that Christians have a public responsibility to work with others to help reform the societies in which we live. Naturally, no Presbyterian is required to affirm the specifics of any social witness policy; in our view they derive from the influence of God’s Spirit on our representative assemblies, working with material provided by expert volunteer study teams and staff … While Presbyterians may differ on particular policies, we do not evade our responsibilities to the common good and to the future.”

General Assemblies’ historic concern about the nature of the economy goes back more than a century — to 1903, Iosso said, when a small “workingman’s” department was set up.

“Through depression, war and wage stagnation, there have been steady themes: we must share both more of the pain and more of the gain, and redirect economic incentives from maximum, individual consumption toward personal wholeness and communal life,” Iosso said. “Otherwise at every downturn — and they will come faster with climate change — we will sacrifice the vulnerable by not having planned differently.”

Iosso noted that more than half of the stimulus and relief package being rolled out in the coming weeks will go to large corporations and industries. While the CARES Act isn’t designed “to move us closer to long-term sustainability,” Iosso said that “still, from a Reformed Christian perspective, it is a democratic and representative government taking responsibility for the economic well-being of the whole society — the ‘common welfare,’ however much it is a top-down approach.”

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