Coronavirus-related unemployment leaves church employees out in the cold


March 19, 2020


By Shawn Hendricks
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

The Alabama Department of Labor announced this week that employees in the state who are unable to work because of COVID-19 will be eligible to file for unemployment benefits. But Alabama Baptists were quick to point out that won’t include churches and their employees. 

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) is looking to get the word out to Southern Baptists. But Alabama Baptists are not alone in this, at least in most cases, according to FileUnemployment.org

“A straightforward answer to those laid off from employment in churches is that you do not qualify to receive unemployment compensation simply because churches do not remit taxes that contribute to the corpus,” FileUnemployment reported. “However, there are exceptions.”

“If a church decides to have a policy in this regard where they pay unemployment taxes voluntarily, the employee can receive unemployment benefits after separation from the job.”

In Alabama, however, “churches and church employees are excluded by Alabama law from participating in unemployment insurance,” according to Jim Swedenburg, director of the office of cooperative program and stewardship development for SBOM.

“Making matters worse,” he noted, “Alabama law does require that churches display the unemployment insurance poster, even though it does not apply to church employees. The result is that those who see it are left with incorrect information.”

As of March 19, schools throughout Alabama will be closed for at least two and a half weeks. And church daycare employees will be heavily impacted, Swedenburg said.

“As many Alabama churches close their day cares, mothers’ day out, preschools and after school programs, thousands of teachers will be unemployed,” he said.

On March 19, the Trump administration warned that the outbreak in the United States could trigger the unemployment rate to reach 20%, NBC News reported.

Swedenburg noted two of the largest churches in the state – though he did specify which ones – called him this week asking for more information about this issue. Swedenburg said he’s been receiving an “unusual number of calls” over the last few days from churches.

Since he may not get a call on this issue for two or three years sometimes, he said, receiving several in one week is a high rate. 

It’s “very important that our churches who employ these people know that they are not going to be able to get unemployment  insurance coverage,” he said. “That they won’t have anything to draw from when they’re laid off.”

He noted, “When they go, the unemployment office tells them your employer has never paid any unemployment insurance so you don’t get any coverage.”

And too many pastors, personnel committees, deacons and other church leaders aren’t up to speed on the issue, Swedenburg said. 

“Some churches have insurance that covers the loss of income, which is business income insurance but not many,” he noted. “Also, we have a few churches that create their own unemployment coverage internally, and there are companies that will sell that coverage to churches. But people don’t know to ask for it so they don’t have it.” 

But the situation continues to change, he said. And he hopes a change that will benefit unemployed church staff will come soon.

“The communications director at the Alabama Department of Labor said this is changing several times an hour, not just daily,” he said. “The picture keeps changing and more benefits become available so there’s a chance there will be some relief.” 

More information can be found at the Alabama Department of Labor

Read Swedenburg’s full post by clicking here.

 

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