Changes recognise crucial role of churches amid crisis
Catholic charities, parishes and religious institutions which would have struggled to continue to remain viable due to the coronavirus pandemic have been given a life-line after changes to the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program.
After legislation passed early in April, registered charities which had recorded a drop in income of 15 per cent or more were eligible for the $1,500 fortnightly payment. But a number of large organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society and Catholic Social Services Australia which receive much of their revenue from government funding and grants did not pass the turnover test needed to access JobKeeper.
The Church’s priests and members of religious orders were also ineligible to receive assistance. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced on 24 April that some larger charities and religious organisations will now have the option to use either their total turnover, or their turnover excluding government funding when applying to access the payment.
Churches and religious institutions in respect of priests and religious would also become eligible in recognition that “many religious practitioners are not ‘employees’ of their religious institutions”, he said.
Assistant Minister for Charities Senator Zed Seselja told The Catholic Weekly that the Government was “very pleased” to be able to make the needed adjustments. “Those grants for example are usually just passed on by the charities to those who need it, and it complicated their turnover reduction because it made it look like the money coming in for them to be able to employ staff and provide services is higher than it actually is,” Senator Seselja said.
“We also listened to the concerns of religious groups such as churches who needed to support priests and religious so we changed some of the tests for that as well so that they would be able to access JobKeeper.
“We know that the Catholic Church and other churches are a big part of the welfare sector, and really value that partnership and the jobs and services they provide to vulnerable people in the community.”
St Vincent de Paul Society National Council CEO Toby oConnor said the changes addressed “an unintended consequence of the JobKeeper assistance package which would have required charities to include government grants which are distributed to Australians in need”.
“They will go a long way to ensuring the viability of fragile charitable work in these difficult times and is good news for the Society’s voluntary members who deliver the assistance to people and communities in need,” Mr oConnor said.
“We know that the Catholic Church and other churches are a big part of the welfare sector”
Chief executive officer of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) Ursula Stephens also welcomed the decision.
“Many agencies within and beyond the Catholic Church have been uncertain about their ongoing sustainability and while this move offers comfort to some, others remain uncertain – including some CSSA members,” she said.
“We are grateful for the collaborative mindset of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments during this period and we will continue to work with them to help them understand the difficulties many agencies still ineligible for Jobkeeper are facing.
“What the Jobkeeper extension means for Catholic Social Services Australia is we can continue to advocate strongly on behalf of our members and, critically, the vulnerable people they serve. Ultimately, the work of CSSA is to advocate for the delivery of support to the people who most need it. By making the case for sustainable ongoing funding for our agencies, that can be achieved.”
Chief Executive Office of CatholicCare in Sydney Mark Phillips congratulated the Government for broadening the application of the scheme. “Along with most charities, we will lose income as a result of COVID-19 but we are intent on maintaining and increasing our care and support for the people of Sydney at this time,” he said. “Being able to access the JobKeeper subsidy will enable us to do that.”
CatholicCare is currently partnering with Sydney parishes to provide practical support to the elderly, vulnerable and self-isolated.
In a time of need, priests and religious are busier than ever
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said that the Church’s priests and charities are busier than ever providing on the ground support to the many affected during the pandemic. “I am grateful that the government has made some key changes to the JobKeeper program,” the archbishop said.
“This will help our priests and parishes and charities to continue their great work, even at a time when donations to parishes and charities have slowed.”
Anne Walker, National Executive Director of Catholic Religious Australia, said that the Government’s financial support assists members of religious communities to support those who are suffering intensely at this time. “It reflects the aid and care that religious provide directly, individually and through their ministries, which are many and varied,” she said. “This is a time of particular need for so many – assisting religious to continue their active engagement in so many ways is of importance at this time of crisis for the vulnerable in our society.”