Empty pews are pictured as assistant pastor Father Felix Min performs a Easter Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s in Vancouver Sunday, April 12, 2020. The Easter service was closed to the congregation and to the public to attend in person at they church but was live streamed to the internet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Empty pews are pictured as assistant pastor Father Felix Min performs a Easter Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s in Vancouver Sunday, April 12, 2020. The Easter service was closed to the congregation and to the public to attend in person at they church but was live streamed to the internet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Wage subsidy program to help fund faith as congregations face COVID-19 crunch

The $73-billion wage subsidy program is expected to give $2.5 billion to Canada’s charities

When the Archdiocese of Toronto cancelled services at its 225 parishes due to COVID-19, it faced a big financial hit, along with difficult layoffs and pay cuts for clergy.

Priests were told to identify one or two essential parish workers to keep on the payrolls at 90 per cent of their salaries. Others would be let go so they could qualify for federal benefits, but receive a church top-up to 75 per cent of their salary. Priests would take a 30 per cent cut to their own salaries.

The parishes, like many other houses of worship, have had donations dry up due to the pandemic, which means less funding to provide religious and community services that have seen spikes in demand.

A possible financial saviour arrives next week in the form of a federal wage subsidy program, which will help keep key staff paid through the pandemic, including priests, rabbis and imams.

“We’ve kept everybody on our payroll and that’s the federal government helping us,” said Jim Milway, chancellor of temporal affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Religious congregations, specifically those listed among the 86,000 registered charities in Canada, generally derive their revenues through donations at gatherings, or regular membership fees.

Catholic and Protestant churches largely live off donations made on Sundays when parishioners gather. Even if services resume tomorrow, it’s unlikely donations would spike to cover the lost time, Milway said: ”A lot of this money is gone forever.”

Others church groups have aging congregants, already tight budgets and older buildings that increase costs, but could also act as collateral for a loan, said Peter Noteboom, general secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches.

READ MORE: Religious leaders look at options to comply with COVID-19 as holiday weeks begin

The timing of the pandemic and restrictions couldn’t be worse for mosques. The holy month of Ramadan, which began this week, is the largest month for donations when worshippers gather for break fast meals and prayers, said Imam Abdul Hai Patel from Toronto.

Some mosque staff are deferring their salaries, while others are being let go to help them qualify for federal benefits, including imams that some mosques can no longer afford, he said.

“Donation is the biggest source of revenue,” he said.

“Closure of the mosques in (Ramadan) will be the biggest loss for many of the organizations.”

Calls to Vancouver’s Beth Israel synagogue have increasingly mixed faith and finances, as congregants ask for a payment holiday on their membership dues. The answer from Beth Israel is always yes, says executive director Esther Moses-Wood.

Worsening the congregation’s financial squeeze is a drop in event revenue, since building access is restricted to key personnel.

The synagogue continues to field calls for rabbinic advice, does outreach and errands for seniors, runs virtual services on Saturdays and online hangouts during the week, while also providing regular updates on government aid programs for individuals and businesses.

Moses-Wood said she looks to see what programs the synagogue could access, including the wage subsidy program for administrative and rabbinic staff.

“The plan is to keep everyone working, all hands on deck,” she said.

“When we are applicable for certain wage subsidies, we’ll definitely take those on as a bit of relief for the financials of the synagogue while keeping people employed.”

The $73-billion wage subsidy program is expected to give $2.5 billion to Canada’s charities, based on calculations by Imagine Canada, a charity itself that promotes the sector. Religious organizations registered as charities or non-profit organizations could benefit from the program, the Finance Department said.

Applications open Monday, with first payments, retroactive to March 15, expected to arrive by the end of the following week. But fuelling decisions on whether to apply will be questions congregations ask themselves about the role of the state in funding affairs of faith, said Brian Dijkema, vice-president of external affairs for Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank.

Some may not want to apply for fear they won’t be able to criticize the government. Others may believe they’ll receive enough in donations by mail or electronically to keep paying bills.

And yet others still may receive just enough donations to keep them from hitting the revenue-drop benchmarks needed to access the wage subsidy program, Dijkema said.

“You’re going to see a different take-up in the use of this subsidy. Some churches, some mosques may not take it up all,” he said.

For those that do qualify, payments will cover up to 75 per cent of their salary, to a maximum of $847 a week for no more than 12 weeks. For those organizations that can, the government is asking employers to fill in the remaining quarter.

Noteboom, speaking from his observations and not on behalf of the council, said the wage subsidy, among other government aid, is seen as a needed financial support to bridge this economic downturn.

“I haven’t noticed any particular handwringing whether we should receive support through public tax dollars,” he said. ”I think folks are eager to participate and to also make the most of the resources that are available.”

That means using what comes in to provide community services like local food banks to support those hardest hit by the restrictions, including newcomers, refugees, low-income families and homeless populations, Noteboom said.

And for others who may have been less technologically astute prior to the crisis, the pandemic is pushing them to learn the technology to change how they provide services and fund themselves into the future.

“It’s a small silver lining in a big grey cloud,” Milway said.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusReligion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP don’t want to see you having your vehicle towed away after an aggressive driving infraction. (RCMP photo)
Chilliwack RCMP hand out more than 500 tickets in aggressive driving crackdown

Police say they’ll continue to focus on speeding, aggressive and distracted driving

Home sales for November in the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board were profitable for sellers because of historically low supply. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)
Historically low supply leads to higher prices in Chilliwack real estate market

City dwellers want to relocate to the eastern Fraser Valley and are willing to pay a high price

Riders will need to don face coverings to ski and snowboard at Manning this winter. (Manning Park Resort photo)
Manning Park slopes open early

Early season snowfall allowed for opening this weekend, 56 centimetre snow base recorded Nov. 30

Mr. Bergen, a statue of a working man, was stolen from a porch in Popkum on Nov. 18, along with a marble statue. (Submitted photo)
Heavy statue and fountain thieved off porch in Popkum

Rightful owner has had statue for 27 years and wants it returned

The winning home of the 2019 Hope Christmas Lights contest was on Cypress Street. Residents have until Dec. 5 to sign their street up for this year’s contest. (Submitted photo)
Holiday cheer, even in a pandemic year

Here’s what is happening in Hope and area as the holiday season kicks off

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Cops converge in a Marshall Road parking lot on Thursday afternoon following a reported police incident. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Federal offender escapes, gets shot at and is taken back into custody in Abbotsford

Several branches of law enforcement find escapee a short distance from where he fled

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

Lefeuvre Road, near Myrtle Avenue, was blocked to traffic on Thursday (Dec. 3) after an abandoned pickup truck was found on fire. Police are investigating to determine if there are any links to a killing an hour earlier in Surrey. (Shane MacKichan photo)
Torched truck found in Abbotsford an hour after killing in Surrey

Police still investigating to determine if incidents are linked

Surrey Pretrial centre in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey Pretrial hit with human rights complaint over mattress

The inmate who lodged the complaint said he needed a second mattress to help him manage his arthritis

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Most Read