Tiara Hatfield’s availability and listening skills were especially crucial in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when the Diocese of Davenport’s parishes, schools and other entities sought her advice. As the diocesan Human Resources and Risk Manager, she had to stay on top of the constantly changing crisis to respond to a myriad of questions.
Among the questions that she fielded: “What do we have employees do that can keep them working?” “How can we reduce the amount of time they would have to be unemployed?” “Can we change what they do even if it’s not in their job description?” “Can we furlough an employee and still provide health insurance for them?” “What if we have an employee we have asked to come back to work and the employee refuses due to concerns of contracting COVID-19?” “What if they are caring for children or elderly parents?”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion bill that Congress passed March 27 and President Trump signed into law, provides some answers and financial relief during this intense period of upheaval that affects everyone on the planet.
“The intent of the CARES Act was to provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses and to preserve jobs,” diocesan CFO Tom Tallman said. “Religious and non-profit organizations were allowed to participate in the assistance programs of the CARES Act because the federal government recognized the importance and size of this sector of the economy, roughly 22 million people, about 14% of the workforce.”
One element of the CARES Act, the $659 billion Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), provided small businesses with the resources to maintain their payroll, hire back furloughed employees and cover applicable overhead, Tallman said. “The PPP Loan program enabled organizations to keep staff employed thereby keeping them from overwhelming the unemployment system.”
The Small Business Administration made more than 1.65 million PPP loans nationwide, 29,424 in Iowa as of mid-April. Tallman said the diocese “encouraged entities to apply for PPP loans to bring some certainty to their situation so that they could continue their greatly needed work.”
Just over 55% of the diocesan parishes, schools and other entities applied for and received a PPP loan: 32 parishes without schools, six parishes with schools and seven schools not affiliated with a parish. The diocese, as an administrative body that oversees faith formation, social action, immigration, clergy formation, Catholic schools, vocations, technology and more, also received a PPP loan. Eligibility requirements are simple: employers with fewer than 500 people, in operation on Feb. 15, 2020, and that pay salaries and payroll taxes for employees.
Loans were capped at 250% of the employer’s average monthly payroll cost with a maximum of $10 million. The original version of the CARES Act covered an eight-week period, which has been extended to 24 weeks with the passage of the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 on June 5. PPP loan funds are limited to a business’ payroll cost, mortgage interest payments, rent or lease payments and utility payments.
The Davenport Diocese, which employs 49 full-time equivalent employees, received a PPP loan of $520,000. “This aid allowed the chancery staff to continue working with groups, parishes and schools to provide compassionate care for the poor and those in need,” Tallman said.
Other diocesan entities that received PPP loans of at least $150,000 included:
• Regina Inter-Parish School, Iowa City
• Assumption High School, Davenport
• Holy Trinity Catholic Schools, West Point
• Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Bettendorf
• St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Davenport
• Our Lady of Victory Parish, Davenport
• Prince of Peace Education Center, Clinton
• Notre Dame Catholic School, Burlington
• Scott County Catholic Education
• Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish, Muscatine
• St. Joseph Parish, DeWitt.
Recipients that received loans of at least $150,000 are listed via a link provided by the Small Business Administration at https://tinyurl.com/yaoq8lep). Some other diocesan entities received smaller PPP loans, including The Catholic Messenger.
“For all of our entities within the Diocese of Davenport the PPP loan funds would be used for payroll costs and business utility payments. If an entity has not yet applied for a PPP Loan, the application date has been extended to Aug. 8, 2020,” Tallman said.
Getting work done
Hatfield said the PPP loans allowed employees idled by workplace closures in parishes, schools and diocesan headquarters to “perform other jobs that normally would not have been done or were scheduled to be done at a later time. Parishes utilized employees to call or reach out to parishioners to see how they were doing and if there was any way that they could help. At schools, employees were brought back in shifts and started summer cleaning while maintaining all safety precautions.”
Some workers sanitized and deep-cleaned parishes and schools to prepare for reopening, updated databases and procedures, called donors to thank them for their donations, and helped to restock food banks.
Social Action Office Administrative Assistant Esmeralda Guerrero has become “a resource person in matters related to worker safety and information” while working from home, said Kent Ferris, who leads the office. Specifically, she has developed a greater awareness of issues affecting workers at meatpacking plants. She continues to respond to calls for information and referral requests as well. Zoom video conferencing helps the office to collaborate with others around the diocese.
Diocesan Immigration Counselors Gricelda Garnica and Karina Garnica assist clients remotely, via phone, e-mail, mail and occasionally in person, Gricelda Garnica said. “At times I meet with clients in the parking lot for document pick up, when they don’t feel comfortable sending them by mail to the office. From my point of view, I feel that it has been working well for the clients and me. In my case, so far, I haven’t had any problems and the feedback I get from clients is that they feel relief that they don’t have to come to the office and that they still receive service during these difficult times.”
One frustration: cancelled appointments for clients living in the U.S. to meet with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for an interview to receive their green cards or citizenship. Also, cancelled appointments at the American Consulate/Embassy for people residing in another country seeking appointments to receive a green card so that they can be reunited with family in the U.S. “They are desperate to get that process done but at this time there is nothing additionally our office can do to speed up the process,” Garnica said.
Other benefits, concerns
Employees at diocesan entities furloughed prior to the CARES Act were able to receive unemployment benefits for the first time, Hatfield said. “This act also gave an additional $600 per week with the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation for a maximum of 39 weeks.”
The CARES Act also works in tandem with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that allows full-time employees unable to work remotely to take up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave. Parents of children whose schools or daycares closed and teacher’s aides and school kitchen staffers, mainly, used emergency paid sick leave, Hatfield said.
All told, the PPP loans, federal unemployment and educational stabilization funds for schools were “three things under the CARES Act that helped our diocese,” Tallman said. As the pandemic continues, diocesan leaders remain cautious.
“Our risks are still out there. We are heavily reliant on donations,” Tallman said. “We are thankful to our donors for staying with us. You can never say ‘thank you,’ enough.”
“People are giving, thanks be to God,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said.