The Rebound Indiana: Growing concern some central Indiana churches left out of federal funding help

Posted at 12:36 AM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 07:58:12-04

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INDIANAPOLIS — More mid-to-large sized churches in central Indiana are getting federal funds to stay afloat during this pandemic, but there’s growing concern some churches may not be getting the help they need.

Under the Paycheck Protection Program, churches can get loans they don’t have to pay back as long as the money is used for things like payroll, mortgages and utilities.

Sanders Temple Church of God and Christ, an east-side church with a congregation of 500 people, hasn’t had in-person services in months because of the pandemic and their finances have suffered.

"Our revenue is down 27% year to date April compared to that same time period in 2019,” Eugene West, chief financial officer at Sanders Temple Church of God, said. “There’s still the cost to operate. Churches have many of the same expenses that businesses in the private sector do. We’ve got employees to pay and utilities.”

West applied for federal funding under the Paycheck Protection Program.

"I thought, 'Wow, this is great for where we are,'” West said. “So, I applied. We were blessed to receive it."

The $30,000 will help cover utilities and payroll for 10 employees at Sanders Temple for two months.

“We're hopeful it will allow us to get through this season of uncertainty and keep our staff employed, because they are essential,” West said. “We need them."

Two other good-sized churches we introduced you to in April have also been approved to receive Paycheck Protection Program funds— New Era Church and Barnes United Methodist.

Barnes United Methodist Church has a congregation of 700 people and New Era Church as more than 2,000 congregants.

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Sanders Temple’s Pastor J. Rashad Jones is concerned about other churches who have not been so fortunate.

“I am aware of the 30 churches in our jurisdiction, only 2 churches have been approved for the program," Jones said.

Jones and his CFO have been working to help smaller, inner-city churches apply for funding.

"Those inner-city parishes are going to suffer because banks are not in those communities,” Jones said. “They don't have relationships with the people at the bank. They're not benefitting from this program.”

Call 6 Investigates has been asking the Small Business Administration since April 23 how many churches in Indiana have applied or have been approved for the Paycheck Protection Program, but SBA has still not provided us with that information.

“There are a number of reasons a specific borrower can be approved or disapproved. If a borrower feels they have been declined in error they can work with their lender to appeal the decision,” Laura Schafsnitz, Indiana District Office Public Affairs for the U.S. SBA, said. “If the lender has declined to work with them, they can go to another lender or pursue other funding options. This is where working with an SBA resource partner can be extremely helpful.

A new survey from Lifeway Research found 40% of Protestant churches across the country applied for government assistance offered either through SBA or the CARES Act, and 23% of those church’s pastors reported that their applications were accepted.

The Interfaith Alliance, a national group that aims to protect faith and freedom by respecting individual rights, is concerned smaller churches are being shut out from the Paycheck Protection Program.

"It seems that well-established congregations with significant communal and institutional power have largely navigated the eligibility process more easily than smaller ones,” read the statement from Interfaith Alliance. “Without clear guidance and intentional engagement, programs like these run the risk of reinforcing existing power structures instead of ensuring that funds reach those most in need."

The Interfaith Alliance sent a letter to the SBA saying, “taxpayer funds may not be used to support religious activities” and urged the federal government to create best practices for administering the funds.

2020 04 07 CARES Act Loan Forgiveness SBA Letter FINAL (Text)

Many central Indiana churches are not applying because of church and state separation and a concern about what accepting federal dollars could mean.

Leaders at Sanders Temple are not concerned about that, but they are worried about what they’ll do when their PPP money runs out on June 26.

“After that, we’re back to how things were before all this happened,” West said.

They want to stay open and continue serving the more than 500 people who choose their church to worship God.

The SBA has approved more than 74,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans in Indiana totaling more than $9 billion, however, the agency won’t say how much went to churches.