The COVID-19 Pandemic Phase III Stimulus Package signed into law March 27 will provide relief options for churches, pastors, and ministry staff. GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention created a question-and-answer document to provide general information on the new law, including:
Unemployment insurance: The law creates a temporary program through Dec. 31, 2020, to provide payment to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits who are unable to work as a direct result of the Coronavirus public health emergency.
Accessing retirement plan accumulations: The law waives the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for Coronavirus-related purposes made on or after Jan. 1, 2020.
Assistance for churches: Several relief options potentially benefit churches, including:
- A refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by employers to employees during the COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers whose 1) operations were fully or partially suspended due to a COVID-19-related shutdown order, or 2) gross receipts declined by more than 50% when compared to the same quarter in the prior year;
- Tax deferrals on the employer share of the Social Security tax employers and self-employed individuals otherwise are responsible for paying to the federal government (pastors are treated as self-employed and pay SECA [Self Employed Contributions Act] taxes); and
- Small business loans to keep workers paid and employed during the pandemic. Tax-exempt entities are specifically recognized as eligible to apply for these loans guaranteed by the federal government.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, addressed concerns that the loans would amount to the government funding ministry. “The loans themselves, whether to a church or to a hardware store, are not from the government at all, but, as always, from banks,” Moore wrote at ERLC.com. “The government’s role is simply to guarantee to the banks these loans, in case of default.”
Moore and GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins both acknowledged churches are free to follow their consciences in regard to the new law.
“While we would never tell a pastor what he must do,” Hawkins said, “it is good that the options are available for pastors and churches who may wish to avail themselves of the options available through this legislation.”
-Baptist Press, ERLC.com