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Houston-area churches received millions in federal forgivable loans

KHOU 11 Investigates found 233 Houston-area churches received forgivable federal loans of $150,000 or more.

HOUSTON — Hundreds of Houston-area churches received tens of millions of dollars in forgivable government loans during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis of federal records.

As churches shuttered their doors and pivoted from in-person to online-only services, weekly offerings often steadily declined.

The head of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas said the loss has been huge across his 160 congregations in the state.

“We are looking at a $25 million loss for the year,” said the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, IX Bishop of Texas.

Bishop Doyle said the primary purpose of church life is to bring people together, physically together, to pray and worship together and support each other. So much of that is lost with the shift to virtual worship.

“Not everybody enjoys online worship. Not everybody finds that refreshing, and not everybody wants to give to that if they can’t go in person, so it created a real crisis,” Doyle said.

It’s why so many places of worship, of many different faiths and denominations, have asked the government for help. KHOU 11 Investigates analyzed CARES Act Payment Protection Program (PPP) data released by the Small Business Administration. We found 233 Houston-area churches received forgivable federal loans of $150,000 or more. The collective total is at least $67 million, but exact figures are unclear since the data only provides a range of the loan, not the actual amount.

Records show another 918 religious organizations in Greater Houston received loans smaller than $150,000. For that data set, the SBA data did not name the church but did provide an exact dollar amount. The collective total of those loans was $40.9 million.

Doyle said the federal funds were primarily used to pay personnel, from pastors and ministers to administrative and custodial staff.

“We’ve kept as many people employed as humanly possible at this very difficult time,” he said.

For example, at St. Martin’s Episcopal in the Galleria area, records show it received between $2 million and $5 million in PPP loans. The church reported 174 jobs retained from the funding.

Also receiving loans between $2 million and $5 million were First Baptist Church, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, and Chapelwood United Methodist Church, according to federal records.

Chapelwood reported 435 jobs were retained with the federal funds.

“Like many churches, our income contributions are down due to not being able to meet together,” said Whitney Allen, Director of External Communications for Chapelwood United Methodist.

“We have been fortunate to keep all of our staff on payroll,” Allen said.

In all, religious organizations in the Houston area reported more than 32,000 jobs saved  because of the federal forgivable loans.

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