Churches closed, temples received millions from the federal government
When Hawaii landed over $ 2.4 billion in federal money from the U.S. Small Business Administration in April, it was hailed as a boon to local businesses and the local economy. But based on data released last week by the US Treasury, there was another big winner: religious organizations.
These organizations, mostly churches and affiliated schools, have secured between $ 22 million and $ 43.5 million in forgivable loans under the Federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. The money doesn’t have to be repaid if at least 75% is used to pay workers, so the loans are more like grants.
Like secular businesses, religious institutions were also closed during the early days of the pandemic, as government orders required people to stay at home with a few exceptions. The loan program offered money to keep people on the payroll even though there was no work to do until the economy picked up.
Religious organizations were previously not allowed to receive SBA loans; however, the federal CARES law, which established the PPP loan program, allowed such loans. The SBA also said federal regulations excluding religious organizations from loan programs are constitutionally inadmissible.
Although details of SBA loans in the past have been treated as public information, the US Treasury initially sought to withhold all details of the COVID-19 stimulus PPP loans, which totaled approximately $ 510 billion disbursed to 4.5 million borrowers in the United States as of May 30.
But after facing potential lawsuits from media organizations and other government watchdogs, the department released the names of the entities that obtained the largest loans and the general ranges of what they received. . Borrowers who obtained less than $ 150,000 were not identified at all; however, the ministry reported loan amounts by industry.
According to new data, at least 353 faith-based organizations in Hawaii have received PPP loans totaling between $ 22.9 million and $ 43.5 million. Of these, 300 were for less than $ 150,000.
But 22 religious institutions received large loans, in amounts ranging from $ 350,000 to $ 1 million, or between $ 7 million and $ 22 million in total, the department reported. These included churches like New Hope, First Presbyterian Church, Kaimuki Church and School, and Word of Life, as well as Hawaii Honpa Hongwanji Mission.
Church workers continued to work as incomes dwindled
Central Union Church also received a loan in the range of $ 350,000 to $ 1 million, the ministry said. All of this went to pay a staff of 50 to 75 workers, said Rev. Brandon Duran, the church’s acting senior minister.
The employees include ministers, administrative staff and preschool teachers, all of whom remained on the job, even when the Honolulu shelter-in-place order completely closed the church’s 8.3-acre campus with 13 buildings on Beretania Street.
Preschool teachers continued lessons through Zoom, said Duran. And the ministers continued to work with the congregation.
When people were stuck at home, it was important for the church to regularly check on the kupuna, especially those identified as “super seniors,” those 75 or older who lived alone or with special needs, said Duran. . It all took work and planning.
“When you’re not able to come together as a community, it takes a lot more intentionality to reach out to people and see how they’re doing,” he said.
Meanwhile, typical incomes had plummeted. Normally in the spring, Central Union holds two major graduation ceremonies: for the Punahou School and the Mid-Pacific Institute. Both have been canceled due to COVID-19. Likewise, the typical parade of spring weddings did not take place.
Duran couldn’t say exactly how much revenue the church lost, but he was able to quantify the number of people in church before and after the virus. Typically, before COVID-19, Central Union hosted 10,000 people per month on campus. Subsequently, it fell to zero.
“While the campus is closed, nothing is happening on campus,” he said.
The same dynamic applies to small institutions. Hawaii Soto Mission, a Buddhist temple in Nuuanu, is one of 31 religious organizations in Hawaii to have received loans in the range of $ 150,000 to $ 350,000. Bishop Shugen Tomagata said that with people who do not come to the temple, it means less donations for memorial services and ceremonies like baby blessings. Still, the temple has a staff of around 26 to pay.
“People are discouraged from interacting with other people,” he said. “Therefore, they do not want to come to the temple. “