US lawmakers are set to renew the COVID-19 small business loan program, which expired in August, but with increased requirements for receiving the funds that render Joel Osteen’s megachurch ineligible.
Lakewood Church, the largest megachurch in the United States, received $4.4 million in bailouts aimed at supporting employees’ salaries during the pandemic, according to the Houston Business Journal.
The Journal further noted Lakewood’s loan was the third-largest in the Houston area in July or August, and that about 1,500 religious organizations in the area received PPP loans, 20 of which were for more than $1 million.
Donald Iloff, a spokesperson for the church, told Journal the cash went to 368 full-time employees because the suspension of in-person services from mid-March until mid-October impacted “its ability to collect substantial donations during those services.”
If the money loaned under the PPP was used to pay employees’ paychecks, then the loans will be forgiven, according to the program’s website.
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State denounced the bailout, telling the Houston Chronicle it was “direct government funding of religion.”
“And once government funding enters the equation, all bets are off,” Boston added. “It then becomes a matter of public interest to determine if taxpayer money was spent in accordance with whatever law we’re talking about.”