Televangelist Joel Osteen's megachurch in Houston received a $4.4 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.
The loan received by Osteen's Lakewood Church was the first time federal lawmakers provided direct financial assistance for a house of worship, the Houston Chronicle reported.
As part of the federal CARES Act that gave coverage to employers to pay for employee wages and other operational costs and needs during the coronavirus pandemic, Lakewood Church received the third-highest loan in the Houston area, according to the Houston Business Journal, citing federal data.
The Hill reached out to Lakewood but did not immediately receive a response.
Lakewood spokesman Donald Iloff told the Business Journal the PPP funds went to 368 full- and part-time employees.
He added that services suspended at the church between March 15 and Oct. 18 impacted the church's ability to "collect substantial donations," which prompted Lakewood to apply for the loan.
“Believing the shutdown would only last a few weeks, Lakewood did not initially apply for PPP assistance during the first half of the program,” Iloff said in a statement. “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.”
Iloff underscored that since 2004, neither Joel nor Victoria Osteen receives salaries from Lakewood Church, and "PPP funds do not provide any personal financial benefit to them, whatsoever.”
The Chronicle reported in July that more than 1,000 religious groups in Texas received hundreds of millions of dollars in PPP loans to preserve a total of 59,000 jobs.
Other notable religious groups such as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, First Baptist Church of Houston and St. Mark Lutheran Church also received loans from the federal program.
Acceptance of the loans has stoked some concerns among religious leaders that a financial tie between governments and churches weakens the separation of church and state.
The head of a Houston-based church consultancy group, William Vanderbloemen, called the loan acceptance by religious institutions "unprecedented," the Chronicle reported.
“You’re talking about a significant number of churches that were assisted by the government,” Vanderbloemen said.