Multimillionaire televangelist Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas pocketed $4.4 million in bailouts through the federal government’s COVID-19 relief program aimed at helping small businesses stay afloat during the prolonged shutdown earlier this year, records show.
The Houston megachurch, the largest in the nation with 52,000 weekly congregants, received the forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loan in late July, the Houston Business Journal reported Sunday.
According to federal data reviewed by the Houston Business Journal, Lakewood’s loan was the third-highest in the Houston area during all of July and August.
The megachurch’s PPP check went to 368 full and part-time employees, spokesman Donald Iloff told the news outlet.
Iloff said in-person services that were suspended from March 15 through Oct. 18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic impacted “its ability to collect substantial donations during those services.”
“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.”
He added, “It is important to note that, since 2004, Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen have not received salaries from Lakewood Church, and the PPP funds do not provide any personal financial benefit to them, whatsoever.”
Osteen, who took the helm of Lakewood Church following the death of his dad in 1999, is worth an estimated $100 million.
The best-selling author came under fire in 2017 following accusations that he refused to offer his megachurch as a sanctuary to Tropical Storm Harvey victims.
Naturally, the Twittersphere dragged Joel “Miracles in Your Mouth” Osteen’s church for landing millions in PPP funds when tens of thousands of small businesses could have been saved with that money.
— Victoria Aveyard (@VictoriaAveyard) December 15, 2020
"THEY IN A PANDEMIC, WE IN A BANDEMIC" – Joel Osteen https://t.co/UIQf69i4UE
— ★ Marito ★ (@itsmemario__) December 15, 2020
America in a nutshell. More money for those who don't need it, nothing for those who do https://t.co/l8BNyFDOYM
— Tre (@Treg2Cole) December 15, 2020
Joel Osteen claimed his church took no PPP money, but his congregation was just one of many that received MILLIONS. This is just another reason why churches should be taxed if they are going to get business benefits. https://t.co/EpAIaHDdRA
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) December 15, 2020
In July, the Chronicle reported that more than a thousand groups of the religious variety in the state of Texas had been given hundreds of millions of dollars. The Small Business Administration said it’s approved more than 5 million loans through the $525 billion program, which ended in August.