Staff and volunteers with Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton help at Ocean Community Services, Lakewood, March 20. Catholic charitable agencies are among those hoping to receive financial relief from a federal emergency aid package. Photo courtesy of Amalie Hindash
Staff and volunteers with Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton help at Ocean Community Services, Lakewood, March 20. Catholic charitable agencies are among those hoping to receive financial relief from a federal emergency aid package. Photo courtesy of Amalie Hindash
CLEVELAND • Catholic hospitals, parish schools and charitable agencies are among the entities hoping to receive partial relief under a massive $2.2 trillion emergency aid package unanimously approved by the Senate in response to the crippling new coronavirus.

They are just not sure when the aid will begin to flow, however.

“At this point everyone is trying to figure out what got in and how it’s going to help out,” said Lisa Smith, vice president of advocacy and public policy at the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Senators approved the 880-page Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, during a late-night vote March 25. Despite such a large expenditure, about half of the federal fiscal year 2020 budget, leaders of Catholic organizations said they expect another package will be needed before the coronavirus runs its course.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives were seeking a quick vote on the measure March 27 through a voice vote, which would not require elected officials to reconvene in Washington.

The bill includes $180 billion in health care spending, designating $100 billion for hospitals and care providers that are the hardest hit in responding to the coronavirus since the first U.S. case of the illness was confirmed Jan. 20.

Another key provision finds aid in the form of loans that would become grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations if staffing levels are maintained. In addition, unemployment insurance would be expanded for people who have suddenly found themselves out of work as companies – sometimes under government ordered shutdowns – have reduced hours or closed altogether in an effort to stem the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

The Catholic health care system has taken a large financial hit, Smith told Catholic News Service March 26.

Some hospital systems are seeing losses from $100 million to $600 million a month in the first weeks of the outbreak of the illness as they shift from normal operations to focus on the public health crisis, Smith said.

“The problem is that the margins are not high, being not-for-profit hospitals, so it’s creating a huge toll,” she explained. “We need a sustained cash flow. “

Support for private and public schools is included in the bill, with $30.7 billion set aside in an Education Stabilization Fund. Of the total, elementary and high schools will receive $13.2 billion and higher education $13.9 billion.

The funds are part of $377 billion allocated for small business assistance.

Presentation Sister Dale McDonald, director of public policy and education research at the National Catholic Educational Association, said funds can be used for cleaning supplies, disinfecting schools and widening the use of technology to enable at-home learning. While welcoming the monies, she said, “For many of our schools, the funds are not going to be enough.”

Catholic colleges and universities also will see some relief, but not nearly as much as necessary, said Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Many ACCU members are facing tight cash flows, especially because they at least partially refunded room and board costs to students who had to vacate dormitories.

Brian Corbin, executive vice president of member services at Catholic Charities USA, welcomed allocations in the CARES Act for a variety of social services.

Among the specific items being funded are an additional $15 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP; $8.8 billion for child nutrition assistance; and $4 billion for emergency solutions grants to address homelessness.

Another provision includes a $300 charitable deduction for all tax filers, even if they do not itemize deductions. The deduction may encourage people to donate to charitable agencies in a time of great need, Corbin said.