Oklahoma Churches Receive Millions In COVID-19 Funds, Spare Thousands Of Jobs

Tuesday, July 7th 2020, 6:51 pm
By: Storme Jones

Tens of thousands of Oklahoma small businesses found relief from the economic effects of COVID-19 through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, including more than 15,000 religious organizations.

“Whether you were a Baptist or a bar you were treated exactly the same,” Sen James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) said.

Nonprofits and some LLCs with fewer than 500 employees that self-identified as a religious organization received more than $90 million in government aid.

Of that money, 1,498 religious organizations received less than $150,000 each. A much smaller group, 127, received between $150,000 and $10 million apiece.

Loan amounts are based on 2.5 times an employer’s monthly payroll. If the company demonstrates the funds were used within the boundaries of the program, the loan is forgiven. 

According to the federal government report, Edmond based Life Church received between $5 and $10 million alone.

“The size of the nonprofit is not relevant,” Lankford said. “Some people will say ‘this one is bigger than this one,’ well again they are employers. The design of the Paycheck Protection Program was to help individuals stay employed.”

Life Church said in a statement:

"We're grateful that non-profits and churches were able to qualify for the PPP because we believe that organizations like ours play an important role in serving communities during times of crisis."

The group Oklahoma Atheists argued faith-based organizations are tax exempt and enjoy special protection under tax laws and should not receive federal aid. However, Lankford said employees of faith-based organizations do still pay federal, state and local taxes.    

“The employees that are there have to be able to feed their families and I don't understand why someone would say, if you work for a faith-based organization, we want you be destitute during the time of COVID-19 but if you work for a non-faith based organization, we want you to be taken care of,” Lankford said.  

According to the filing, in Oklahoma alone the Paycheck Protection Program helped retain more than 18,000 faith-based jobs.

The government list also has its problems. Crossings Community Church is listed as receiving between $2 and $5 million, but said it actually turned the money down.

“Their employees shouldn't be treated different than someone else just because they are faith-based employees, that would be literal discrimination based on the fact of faith,” Lankford said.

In all, around 65,000 Oklahoma businesses received money, including News 9's parent company, Griffin Television, LLC.