U.S. Representatives Mike Johnson (LA-04) and Cedric Richmond (LA-02), Republican Whip Steve Scalise (LA-01), and Democratic Whip James Clyburn (SC-06) have sent a bipartisan letter to key federal agency heads to make clear that it was and is Congress’ intent that houses of worship have equal access to the COVID-19 relief funds made available to non-profits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The letter urges Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza, and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to ensure that access to relief funds is not conditioned on houses of worship having previously submitted a non-legally required from to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The letter was sent in response to concerns raised by faith leaders that small and independent houses of worship could be unintentionally excluded from receiving aid if agencies only allow non-profit organizations with a formal IRS exemption determination letter to apply for funds. Under current law, churches that meet the definition of a 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax-exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS. While churches can voluntarily seek recognition of tax-exempt status to guarantee certain tax benefits, it is not uncommon for smaller churches to forgo this unnecessary formal recognition process due to the fees and legal resources required to complete it.
The letter represents a proactive, bipartisan effort by Johnson, Richmond, Scalise, and Clyburn to ensure these considerations are built into the application process so that small and independent houses of worship have equal access to COVID-19 relief funds, just as Congress intended.
“It was clearly the intent of Congress to make certain that America’s churches and religious institutions have the exact same access to relief through the CARES Act as all other non-profit organizations, and we need that to be affirmed immediately by the executive branch,” said Johnson. “Our churches are the heart and soul of this nation, and this can be their finest hour, and there is no justification why our government should unjustly leave them behind during these difficult times.”
“Our houses of worship have always been there in good times and bad,” said Richmond. “We go to them to celebrate joyous occasions such as weddings and to seek solace when tragedy strikes. They have never let us down when we needed them and Congress certainly did not intend to leave them and their employees behind as they help us deal with this unimaginable tragedy. We must do everything in our power to correct this error and ensure that relief funds make it to all houses of worship—with or without unnecessary paperwork.”
“The CARES Act delivers much-needed relief to families and businesses across the country who are facing uncertainty during the Coronavirus crisis. This relief must be extended to houses of worship just as Congress intended,” said Scalise. “In Louisiana and across the country, churches continue to support communities in times of need. They deserve to be equipped with the necessary tools to overcome this virus just like other nonprofits who are eligible for assistance.”
“Places of worship are the center of many of the communities in my congressional district, and they are suffering as a result of the necessary social distancing measures that are in place,” said Clyburn. “Congress clearly did not intend that churches’ eligibility for relief under the CARES Act should depend on previously filling out a form that was not legally required. Such an arbitrary requirement, if imposed, would add insult to injury for many of the most vulnerable communities I represent.”
The signed letter can be viewed here.