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

Voters in Saanich North and the Islands, here lining up outside Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on the first day of advanced voting, are among the provincial leaders in getting in their votes early, with some 20 per cent (10,174) of eligible voters have already cast their ballots. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

New Democratic leader John Horgan during Monday's campaign stop in Sidney. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
NDP John Horgan wins Langford-Juan de Fuca

BC Green candidate Gord Baird takes second place early in the polls

(BC Hydro outage map)
UPDATE: Power restored to more than 3,000 Sooke residents

Two polling stations impacted by outage

The mottled sky, the lights coming on at water’s edge and in Victoria West, and the reflections on the building windows make for a scenic sunset photo in Victoria’s Selkirk neighbourhood. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Sunset on the Selkirk in Victoria

Send your photos to editor@vicnews.com for a chance to see them in the paper

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Oct. 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read