By Tom Tracy
Catholic News Service
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — Catholic entities that took part in the Paycheck Protection Program said the federal emergency bridge loans translated into rapid assistance for their communities in the early months of the pandemic’s economic impact.
In Nashville, Tennessee, when Mayor John Cooper convened local philanthropic and business leadership to create the city’s COVID-19 Response Fund, one of the first local agencies to join the Nashville effort was a team of staff at Catholic Charities of Tennessee.
Catholic Charities there reassigned some of its staff to the project after ongoing work with refugee resettlement was brought to a halt by the pandemic and the related international border closures and travel stoppage.
Supported in part by the federal loans, Catholic Charities of Tennessee was able to divert some 20 staff who, working remotely, were able to help the COVID-19 Response Fund screen and process local residents who were in need of emergency cash grants for everything from rent assistance to utility and car loan payments.
“The PPP money enabled us to confidently keep our staff in place and immediately assign them with ad hoc work in our city and we became an important player in our city,” Judy K. Orr, executive director of the Catholic Charities of Tennessee in Nashville, told Catholic News Service.
The region’s expansive tourism-related economy has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic closures. Orr noted the COVID-19 pandemic also came on the heels of a catastrophic tornado event in Nashville that further stretched staffing at the agency in early March.
“I spoke to the mayor’s office about taking my partly idled refugee staff for vetting applicants for the fund and in 48 hours we were tapped to do that work,” Orr said. Other partners in Nashville’s COVID-19 Response Fund included United Way of Greater Nashville and the Frist Foundation.
“It was critical to the city to process these applications for emergency assistance,” Orr said of the Nashville program. “We normally help about 200 families a year and instead we helped 500 in one month. Not only did the PPP keep our people working but we were working harder, working remotely and really apropos to the times.”
The Paycheck Protection Program — established by the CARES Act — is implemented by the Small Business Administration with support from the Department of the Treasury. This program provides small businesses and other entities with a period of funds for payroll costs including benefits. Funds also were used to pay interest on mortgages, rent and utilities.
In late April, the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference had calculated that 8,000 parishes, 1,400 elementary schools, 700 high schools, 104 chanceries, 185 Catholic Charities agencies and 200 other diocesan organizations in 160 dioceses had applied for assistance at that point.
The conference said that church entities that were not funded in the first round or had applied after the original allocation of federal money was exhausted had already applied or planned to file applications as new monies flowed into the program.
In Portland, Oregon, Catholic Charities of Portland was able to acquire a Paycheck Protection Program loan and retain all of its staff while retooling — even expanding — many of its programs for the new unemployment and food insecurity challenges posed by the pandemic, according to Vanessa Briseno, director of the Pope Francis Center in Portland and senior development officer for Catholic Charities Portland.
As with the nation’s 2007-2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has been met with an impressive amount of community goodwill and volunteerism, but the current crisis is proving far-reaching and complicated for older and vulnerable populations, Briseno said.
Catholic Charities of Portland has used the loan to support a food response network; housing transitions programming, an expansion of resident services and a food pantry program.
“We are very blessed, but what is different is the sheer number of people and the volume of needs; we are seeing a lot of needs we didn’t see before,” she told CNS. “So many don’t have a sense of timeline when they can go back to work.”
“We weren’t really a provider of food before but now have partnered with the Portland Archdiocese, Blanchet House and St. Francis Dining Hall to provide 10,000 hot meals a week and with farmworker agencies to provide food boxes for (agricultural) workers,” Briseno added. Partnerships with local grocery stores have opened up another source of discounted food for needy families.
Marcie Pierce, chief financial officer for Catholic Charities in Portland, said applying for the PPP loans, as they are called, required the agency to affirm it has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and Catholic Charities of Portland was able to show a related reduction in fundraising.
“Once we were aware of the fact that we were harmed (by the pandemic), we applied for the loan with another agency and we were able to secure a loan — we hope to receive forgiveness,” Pierce said, indicating she thought by then the PPP loan funding was likely exhausted.
The loan Catholic Charities was able to get from another agency “focused directly on maintaining employment of our social services organization so they can continue doing the good work that they do,” she added.
The U.S. Senate extended the deadline to apply for the PPP loans to Aug. 8. The Senate’s action June 30 came as over $130 billion allocated to the program actually remained unused.
Catholic schools and parishes also were among the participants of the Paycheck Protection Program.
In Indianapolis, Holy Spirit Parish and School secured the loan funding during a second round of funding. It enabled the parish to offset the reduction in Sunday collections, which support the tuition subsidy there. The result was teachers, child care, summer camp and other staff were able to keep working through the end of June. The school has a student body of 400, according to Rita Parsons, Holy Spirit principal.
“We would have had to take out a personal loan to cover contracted teachers’ salaries,” Parsons said, had the PPP loan not come through in May. The school is to resume child care and summer camp programming July 20.
“We completed a survey with all our families and they were very pleased at how everything turned out although they would have wanted to for their children to go back to school earlier — but they understood that we had to deal with (safety measures),” Parsons said. “We are going to make it and we are going to start back in August stronger than ever.”
In Brookline, Massachusetts, Theresa Kirk, principal of St. Mary of the Assumption elementary school, worked with a local bank to secure a PPP loan for the school — the federal program is administered by the SBA and local approved lenders provide the money and in turn the loan kept faculty and staff working remotely without missing a beat, she said.
“It certainly assisted in keeping us going,” Kirk said of the federal loan program. She explained the school had to break March 13, stopping in-classroom instruction to turn to remote learning. “We pivoted over a weekend at a time when no one (on staff here) had even heard of Zoom.”
Now, the school is conducting an optional summer bridge program through remote learning to offset the “summer slide” impact and to provide additional social and emotional support for students.
Teachers are expected to reconvene with students on campus for the fall term beginning Sept. 9 with a staggered schedule, moving soon after into a more normal school day as conditions permit.
“We are very lucky in Brookline and the parents are grateful: our enrollment is actually up for fall. Some families came back to us who were considering maybe not coming back,” Kirk said.