The current administration has established an unparalleled record of valuing and protecting people of faith during Trump’s first term in office. This is especially comforting to America’s Catholics during a difficult time when the impact of the coronavirus has shut down nearly every parish across the nation, and it is a refreshing contrast to the anti-religious freedom policies of the previous administration. Catholics and other supporters of religious institutions should celebrate a recent decision that will help churches survive closures and take this memory with them to the polls in November.
Consider not only the sacrifices that Catholics have made in doing without masses and Holy Communion, but also the jeopardizing effects that shutdown and social distancing mandates have on parishes financially. America’s 17,000 Catholic parishes have foregone the support of worshippers for months, including Easter of all days, with restrictions likely to extend for additional weeks or months. As a result, many schools and parishes are running on fumes and are now implementing massive budget cuts, layoffs, or worse. Like many small businesses, an economic blow of this magnitude could ultimately mean permanent closure.
Consider the recent celebration of Easter, where millions of American Catholics were not permitted to celebrate together inside their churches. Easter ordinarily draws the highest church attendance of the year. According to the National Retail Federation, just over half of all Americans would have attended church on Easter Sunday, and about 20% of Americans, roughly 51 million, are Catholic. Imagine, by comparison, if the coronavirus shutdown wiped out all revenue that retailers see on Black Friday. Many would not survive. Similarly, deprived of the critical support provided by parishioners, not just on Easter but Sunday after Sunday for months, it is very likely that some Catholic parishes and schools will not make it.
That is why Catholics breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Trump administration announced that faith-based organizations are qualified to participate in the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (PPP). The purpose of this program is to keep small businesses and their workers afloat financially during this national emergency.
"Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services," said the Small Business Administration (SBA) in a statement. "No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization."
In addition, the SBA clarified that parishes, while operating in association with larger dioceses, may qualify for relief as independent entities that are not subject to the 500-employee limit contained in the legislation. Initial funding for this program ran out due to high demand, but Congress has just allocated hundreds of billions of dollars in additional funding which can now help these cherished institutions survive.
While the Trump administration prioritized helping America’s churches, this type of aid would have been unthinkable during the previous administration. The Obama-Biden administration racked up a notorious record of regular hostility towards people of faith and Catholics in particular. One of the most grotesque examples included its legal pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor. It is doubtful that the Little Sisters’ mission to minister to the indigent elderly–even at a time like this–would have inspired any mercy from former president Barack Obama. After all, he fought this group of Catholic sisters all the way to the Supreme Court to prevent even a modest accommodation that might allow them to serve the poor in a way that is consistent with their religiously inspired mission.
And let’s not forget the Obama-Biden administration’s policy that disqualified Catholic adoption and foster care programs from federal support, unless these highly qualified programs agreed to check their convictions at the door. Thankfully, the Trump administration has since rolled back that policy.
The contrast between the current and previous administrations couldn’t be more startling. Former Vice President Biden’s track record within the previous administration is proof of just how damaging a foe in the White House he could be.
Of the many policy achievements of the Trump administration, making PPP relief monies available to churches may, in the end, have the most significant impact on the lives of most American Catholics. Many Catholic institutions, which have closed their doors along with many businesses for the sake of public health and the common good, now have a lifeline. The Trump administration is right to treat communities of faith on the same terms as others.
Catholic voters will soon choose once again who they want to lead the country for the next four years. For many of these voters, remembering who had their back during this historic crisis may indeed prove decisive.
Brian Burch is the President of Catholic Vote.