Joel Osteen’s Texas-based megachurch has repaid all $4,400,000 of the stimulus money they were given nearly two years ago; the result of taking advantage of the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program, in order to help offset their several months of virtual services.
The program, which the federal government passed in response to the pandemic early this year in a big way, was a forgivable loan that companies don’t have to pay back so long as it is spent on wages and other related expenses. Despite the church not having to pay it back, they did so anyway, the result of months of sustained pressure and criticism at having accepted in the first place.
When reached out for comment as to why they would even apply for it, a church spokesman said that given the church shut down in-person services for over 7 months, that closure negatively impacted their ability to garner tithes, offerings, and other “substantial donations.” Lakewood spokesperson Don Illof explains:
“Believing the shutdown would only last a few weeks, Lakewood did not initially apply for PPP assistance during the first half of the program. However, as the shutdown persisted month after month, given the economic uncertainty, Lakewood finally applied for the PPP loan and has been able to provide full salaries and benefits including health insurance coverage to all of its employees and their families.”
The church, which has an annual budget of over $90 million dollars, received the money to retain 370 jobs.
The revelation of receiving such largess has many small business owners crying foul, as thousands of Texas business owners were denied claims, while Osteen got one of the largest in the State. In particular, critics were arguing:
- The entire time the church was shut down for in-person services they were still holding online services and were fundraising and receiving money.
- The decision to shut down their church for in-person services for 7 months was a decision that the church made, and was not mandated in any way. They would have opened up way sooner, but chose not to.
- Osteen is a multi-millionaire with a net worth of between $60-100M dollars. He lives in a 17,000 square foot mansion that is worth over $15,000,000. Were he so concerned, he could have easily paid for it out of pocket, rather than causing others to lose out.
Lakewood Church was one 60 churches in the state that received more than $1,000,000 in funds.