Churches and faith-based organizations that have shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19 have a new source of economic relief.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was signed into law on March 27 to provide financial help for small businesses across the country, and according to SBA southeast regional administrator and Gainesville native Ashley Bell, churches can receive a portion of that aid.
“All of us that attend church on Sundays or Wednesdays, whatever your religion may be, we all know how drastically this inability to gather has affected our churches,” he said. “This was something that the vice president felt very strongly about that we needed to find a way of making sure that faith-based organizations were treated exactly like other nonprofits. That’s important.”
Churches can participate in the Payroll Protection Program of the CARES Act, which will help religious institutions’ employees despite drastic drops in revenue.
Any church hoping to take advantage of the program can take the average salary of all employees on payroll, couple it with other expenses such as mortgage interest payments, rent and utility bills, multiply that number by 2.5 and receive a forgivable loan from a participating lender of that amount to help make it through the crisis.
“The only requirement the government is asking, the SBA is asking, the lender is asking, is that you don’t fire anybody,” Bell said. “Everybody who you say you’re going to have on payroll when you start the program, you have to have those folks on payroll at the end. If that’s the case, your lender will be able to certify you as having kept your side of the bargain, and the loan becomes 100% forgivable.”
Local faith-based organizations are already starting to take advantage of the legislation.
According to First Baptist of Gainesville associate pastor of finance and property Kent Murphy, the church has already applied for their loan. Murphy said the process was simple and easy.
“Honestly, I think the banks have it a lot harder than the applicants do,” he said.
Murphy said the relief comes at the perfect time for the church.
When large gatherings were first prohibited in Georgia, preventing First Baptist from holding Sunday services, Murphy said there was real concern some church employees would have to be laid off. The inclusion of faith-based organizations into the CARES Act has alleviated that stress for First Baptist of Gainesville.
“We decided that with the PPP application in, we could hold off on any kind of personnel changes,” he said.
The first point of contact for a church interested in leveraging the CARES Act would be their local lender.The legislation leaves it up to banks and credit unions to opt in. The SBA is keeping an active log of participating lenders, and churches interested in participating can go to the SBA Georgia District Office website or call the office at 470-891-5576 to find a source of aid.
“Delegating that authority to the private sector and to the lender allows us to work much quicker, to make decisions local, and make that decision with someone you trust, which should be your local banker, or where your church holds their money,” Bell said.
Churches depend on tithes and offerings often received during services.
This recent legislation could keep many churches from having to permanently close down.
“The doors of churches have always been open,” Bell said. “Now it’s time for us to make sure our doors are open for them. It’s important. I hope we pull together as a community and the lending community pulls together and we find a way to help these churches that need help.”
Any organizations interested in taking advantage of the CARES Act can find a participating lender here.