By Jessica Brodie
To help ease financial burdens created by the pandemic, conference benefits leaders have approved a three-month direct billing holiday for churches in South Carolina.
“Churches are reeling from financial issues right now,” said the Rev. Chris Lollis, conference pension and health benefits officer. “We have reserves invested at Wespath, and part of those reserves are for emergency situations, and we know this is one of those times we have the funds available to help local churches. We want to extend that so they can continue doing ministry during this time.”
Lollis said the three-month direct bill holiday will be for July, August and September. Initially, they were going to do it for April, May and June, but they realized churches needed to incur the billing in order for those churches to take full advantage of the paycheck protection program portion of the $2 trillion stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security Act—or the CARES Act.
“It’s an invoice adjustment,” he explained. “Whatever their normal cost is will be waived.”
Lollis said the direct billing holiday is for church’s portion only; the church will still need to remit the pastor’s payroll deductions monthly.
He said the three-month holiday will not have to be paid at a later date.
Direct billing has to do with pension and insurance coverage for clergy. As part of their service as a pastor, South Carolina United Methodist clergy are entitled to insurance and pension coverage, and the church they serve is supposed to pay for this. The conference pays the bill, then in what is termed direct billing, sends the church a bill for its share of the pastor’s coverage.
“The biggest ‘why’ behind this is so churches will have a break from this billing so they can continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the communities they serve,” Lollis said. “I’ve spoken over the past couple weeks with pastors concerned they personally weren’t going to be paid, and their financial teams are meeting and they’re picking and choosing what they’re going to pay, and so it’s hitting a lot of churches. The giving has decreased significantly.”
Valerie Brooks-Madden, chair of the Conference Board of Pension and Health Benefits, said the direct billing holiday is one way they can help during a difficult time.
“I love quotes, and throughout this whole ordeal what first stuck out in my mind is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing is nothing.’ I thought this was right thing to do and the right time to do it, and people deserve some good news,” Brooks-Madden said. “I trust God and I believe in God, and we’re going to get through this.”