PPP program helped pay employees through pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic drastically slowed the U.S. economy, Congress approved a stimulus package that included the Paycheck Protection Program.

Under the program, the federal government financed loans to employers through the Small Business Administration to encourage them to retain and keep paying their workers.

The Diocese of Nashville, its parishes and schools and several other diocesan entities received 45 PPP loans totaling $10.8 million that allowed them to continue paying their employees, said Bill Whalen, chief financial officer for the diocese.

“The effort and intention of the diocese was to retain as many employees as possible, and this program allowed us to do that,” Whalen said.

When federal officials started talking about including the PPP program in a stimulus package, Whalen said, he reached out to a contact in the Small Business Administration to find out how the program would work.

The suggestion was the diocese should move quickly because officials didn’t expect the money to last long, Whalen said.

His staff began contacting 61 parishes and diocesan entities to collect payroll information in anticipation of applying for the loans.

Several parishes and other diocesan entities are so small they don’t have paid staff and thus no payroll, Whalen explained.

That left 45 that could file loan applications, he said. Although the diocesan finance staff either prepared the applications or assisted with others, the entities filed the applications independently, Whalen said. 

“Of the 45 separate and independent applications, in the aggregate they totaled $10.8 million,” Whalen said. Congress has approved a total of $669 billion for the program.

Under the program, applicants could receive 2 ½ times their monthly payroll up to $10 million. The loans for the diocesan entities ranged from $6,000 to $1.9 million, he said.

Twenty-six of the loans were approved in the first round in April totaling $8.8 million and the other 19 loans totaling $2 million were approved in the second round in May, Whalen said.

“All of our loans have been funded. It’s going to help a lot of our parishes and a lot of our schools to stay open and continue operations in the fall,” Whalen said. 

The PPP loans helped parishes, schools and other diocesan entities avoid cutting payroll to make up for revenue losses during the two months when the public celebration of Mass was suspended and Sunday collections stopped and other fundraisers were cancelled, Whalen said.

“It’s been a lifesaver for many parishes and a big help for everyone,” he added.

The loans will be fully forgiven if the money is used to pay payroll costs, interest on a mortgage, rent or utilities.

“Now we’re working with everyone on the process of applying for forgiveness,” Whalen said. “The majority of our loans will be forgiven. I expect very little of the money will be returned.”

The diocese and its parishes, schools and other entities have about 1,200 full- or part-time employees, Whalen said. “The vast majority of those would be covered with those 45 loans.”

“This allowed us to keep and retain people,” Whalen said. “The greatest benefit was to the hourly workers” whose pay would have been threatened when schools and parishes closed their facilities in March to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, he said. 

Whalen praised the work of his staff for helping complete so many applications, including Karen Fultz, director of parish accounting services for the diocese, and Teresa Coburn, diocesan controller.

“We were working day and night,” Whalen said. “We were determined to pound these things through.”

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