Popular Mega-Church Multimillionaire Pastor Joel Osteen Busted For Taking PPP Small Business Bailout Money

Popular Mega-Church Multimillionaire Pastor Joel Osteen Busted For Taking PPP Small Business Bailout Money

In this Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017 file photo, Pastor Joel Osteen gives an interview at his Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The largest church in the U.S. with 52,000 weekly congregants received $4.4 million in coronavirus relief funds through the Small Business Administration’s forgivable Paycheck Protection Program.

Joel Osteen, the televangelist who runs the massive Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, is worth an estimated $100 million. He took over the church in 1999 after his dad, founding pastor John Osteen, died.

The Houston megachurch received the money in late July, the Houston Business Journal reported. At least 1,500 churches and religious organizations in the Houston area were approved for PPP loans. Twenty got loans of more than $1 million. Lakewood got the largest loan among Houston religious entities and the third-largest PPP loan overall in the area for July and August, according to federal data.

The PPP funding was designed as forgivable loans for desperate business owners facing shutdowns. About 600 businesses — including powerful law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, restaurants like the steakhouse chain started by Ted Turner, and the operator of New York’s biggest horse tracks received the maximum loan amount of $10 million, according to the data, New York Times reported.

At Lakewood Church, the money was used to pay 368 full- and part-time employees, church spokesman Donald Iloff told the Houston Business Journal. Due to the pandemic, in-person services were stopped from March 15 to Oct. 18, impacting the church’s “ability to collect substantial donations during those services,” spokesman Donald Iloff told the Houston Business Journal.

Pastors Joel and Victoria Osteen have not received salaries from Lakewood Church since 2004 “and the PPP funds do not provide any personal financial benefit to them, whatsoever,” Iloff said.

Lakewood Church’s virtual Easter Sunday service in April featured celebrity performances including Mariah Carey. Tyler Perry spoke at the service, New York Post reported.

The Small Business Administration said it approved more than 5 million loans through the $525 billion program, which ended in August. Recipients included small businesses, religious organizations and private schools.

The church was the target of public criticism in the past for refusing to open its doors to offer shelter during natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, Chron.com reported. That’s what several social media users remembered when they heard about the church taking federal PPP money.

“This is the same company who closed its doors during a historic Hurricane that left most of Houston struggling,” one tweeted.

“No words for him. He wouldn’t let people in his church until shamed and took money from small businesses that needed it. He seems to do the opposite of what the Bible says and he preaches,” another said in a post.

Some on Twitter were angered by Osteen for taking the money when he’s known to have a jet-setting lifestyle: “He needed to fuel his personal Airbus A319 and pay housekeeping at his $13million home, well one of them anyway…”

The news prompted calls on social media to tax churches: “But Osteen does not pay taxes. Why does he get a bailout with our tax money when thousands cannot get unemployment extension? That’s a real prosperity gospel. It is way past time to tax churches. There has never been any reason not too. Especially those where the main reason for existing is the making of money.”

Others called for Osteen to give the money back and start a food bank: “He needs to give it back like other companies have done or make available to community let’s feed the soul of America.”

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Officials from the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration insisted that the government’s Paycheck Protection Program coronavirus emergency fund for small businesses mostly benefited small businesses because 87 percent of the loans were for less than $150,000.

Publicly traded restaurant chain Shake Shack said it would give the money back after coming under fire for securing $10 million in government aid through PPP. More than a dozen publicly traded companies with revenue of $100 million-plus received funds before the program ran out of money, according to a Bloomberg review of regulatory filings.

“If a church is getting millions in aid, it should be running a food bank,” one Twitter user said. Another said, “Every church should have a food bank. A church as large as Osteen’s should have multiple food banks all over Texas. Shelters for abused or homeless. No church should sit empty or be a coffee shop lounge six days out of the week.”