With help from diocesan Chancery staff, parishes and schools in the Diocese of Trenton have been receiving Paycheck Protection Program monies. CNS photo
With help from diocesan Chancery staff, parishes and schools in the Diocese of Trenton have been receiving Paycheck Protection Program monies. CNS photo
With Sunday Mass offertories declining during the coronavirus pandemic, dioceses have been helping their parishes tap into revenue sources to help keep one crisis from becoming a second one.

One such revenue source has been the Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal Small Business Administration. Nearly $700 billion in loans were made available in two separate laws passed in Washington since mid-March, when the coronavirus was deemed a pandemic and a national emergency was declared by the White House.

In the Diocese of Trenton, 64 parishes and Catholic schools and organizations – 60 percent – successfully applied for loans and were approved, for a total of $18.2 million. In addition, another seven parishes are in the process of applying.

“It has secured us for the year,” said Filippini Sister Elizabeth Seton Dalessio, principal of St. Jerome School, West Long Branch. “Let’s face it – all of us have been affected somehow by this pandemic. But this makes us strong again.”

The school was among one of the first entities in the Diocese to spring into action when PPP legislation was passed. The application process, Sister Elizabeth said, was daunting.

“When we first heard about the PPP, I went right online to see what we needed to do. The application was intense, but we knew how important it was. We wanted to maintain our faculty because of the programs that we run here,” she said, citing the advance math and STEM programs as examples as well as virtual learning for the fall.

Two members of the finance committee contacted staff at the diocesan Chancery, Lawrenceville, she explained. “They gave us the assistance we needed, and within a week we had the loan.”

Michael D'Angelo, director of the diocesan Department of Finance, said that as the threat of a pandemic became reality, it became immediately apparent that parishes, schools and organizations would be looking for financial guidance, especially since COVID-19 was bound to affect collections and fundraisers.

“Anything we could do to help defray costs and keep the parishes and schools going, that was the motivation to invest as much time as needed,” he said.

Joseph Bianchi, diocesan chief administrative officer, admitted that due to the legislation’s quick passage, there wasn’t much time to prepare for the application process. With D’Angelo mastering the legislation and other diocesan financial and human resources staff swiftly taking calls and emails, “We made it work on the run. The success was a real tribute to everyone’s dedication,” Bianchi said.

Also included in the workload was ensuring furloughed employees would continue to receive health insurance benefits, and securing state unemployment benefits for furloughed employees – with help from the New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.

Filing claims has been frustrating for furloughed employees, Bianchi admitted, due to the state’s outdated technology and the influx of unemployment applications. More than one million New Jerseyans are currently unemployed due to the coronavirus.

However, Bianchi said that he is now receiving news that employees are beginning to receive benefits. In that respect, “Things are beginning to go in a positive direction.”

As for the PPP loans, over 24 weeks, businesses/organizations must use 60 percent of the funds for payroll, which includes employer benefit and retirement costs, with the additional 40 percent going toward mortgage interest, leases and utilities. If used as outlined, the loan can convert into a grant and be forgiven. Any amount not forgiven will remain as a five-year loan with a 1 percent interest rate.

The monies come at a critical time for parishes, which have seen a bit more than 50 percent decline in collections for April and May. This is a significant reduction, as most of a parish’s income is through collections.

“The parishes’ costs didn’t go away just because of the pandemic – they still exist,” said Kevin Cimei, the Diocese’s chief financial officer. “Parishes still have to pay for utilities, pastors, repair costs, etc. Parishes are livestreaming and trying to provide services.”

He thanked the parishioners who continue to give, as they are able. “It's been very positive and reassuring to see the support that many of the faithful have provided their parishes.”

Meanwhile, Msgr. Thomas N. Gervasio, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows-St. Anthony Parish, Hamilton, and diocesan vicar general, is thankful for the Diocese’s guidance.

“My parish staff, quite anxious to work through the process to obtain the PPP loan, found a conscientious adviser in Michael D’Angelo, who went above and beyond the ‘call of duty,’” he said. “The fact that we have already received the loan is due in no small part to the support we received from Mr. D’Angelo. What a blessing to have someone to help you at every step at such an anxious time.”

Said Cimei, “It was a rare opportunity where we could directly help the parishes and faithful get some much-needed funds and use our financial skills to really help the mission.”

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.