Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the US economy has been severely damaged, with many companies laying off workers and many people losing their jobs. US Federal Government and all state governments, including some of the biggest companies, are actively seeking relief. Especially, US Federal Government has taken a series of massive actions to stable and stimulate economy. For example, two acts have been passed to allocate funds to federal agencies for vaccine development, free virus testing, paid leave for affected people, additional Medicaid funding and food aid. On 27 March 2020, President Trump signed a larger Economic Relief Package, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (the “CARES Act”) into law. It is an economic stimulus act that includes direct cash payments to tax-paying residents, unemployment insurance expansion, state aid and loans to businesses. Some of the money will be used for loans to small businesses.
Federal Supporting Small Businesses Program, a Big cake for Evangelical Allies
On July 8, the Associated Press reported that evangelical Allies of President Trump have received loans from the Federal Supporting Businesses Program while the churches of evangelical advisers connected to President Trump have received at least $17.2 million in loans, including the City of Destiny by Paula White, President Trump’s personal pastor and White House faith adviser. According to figures released by the US Treasury Department, the City of Destiny received about $350,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) clearly stipulates that eligible applicants are small businesses with fewer than 500 employees (more than 500 in individual industries, according to SBA guidance) directly affected by COVID-19 since 31 January, including self-employed, contract workers and self-employed, small agricultural cooperatives and small aquaculture enterprises, and many of the affected restaurants, hair salons, gyms, renovation companies, even start-ups (non-venture capitalists), self-employed people, Uber drivers, real estate agents, and so on are eligible to apply.
According to reporters Karl Russell and Stacy Cowley from New York Times, “A centerpiece of the federal government’s economic relief plan is to provide billions in forgivable loans to small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. But analyses of government data show that the lending program, which is overseen by the Small Business Administration, allowed many of the earliest funds to go to parts of the country that were not as hard-hit by the coronavirus as well as to a small number of companies seeking millions in assistance.”
The relief program has been criticized since its inception. Although the program focuses on supporting small businesses, the rules of the first lending round allowed large businesses to apply for loans of up to $10 million, and later evangelicals occupied massive loans. All these sparked the anger among small business owners. There is also the uneven distribution of funds across regions.
“The challenge most feared by small businesses has really happened,” said Brad Close, President of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the nation’s largest small business industry group. A lot of disaster loans went to the bigwigs and their Allies. “Small businesses in the US are on the edge of a cliff and are doing everything they can to take care of employees, reopen their businesses. The Trump administration has let them down and the smallest businesses that want to participate in the PPP are the most disadvantaged.”
President Trump and his evangelical allies
On June 21, 2016, in the midst of an uncertain battle for the republican presidential nomination, property magnate Donald J. Trump and his campaign team decided to form the Evangelical Advisory Board, which would be one of the high-end policy advisory boards after he has won the election. This loose, mystical political advisory body was originally composed of 26 members, who are mainly evangelical leaders and megachurch ministers. After Trump was elected President, these “evangelical advisers” naturally became regular visitors to the White House, supported President Trump on many occasions and became one of the representative symbols of President Trump’s affinity with Christian evangelicals. After the Racism incident in Charlottesville, Virginia, occurred on August 12, 2017, President Trump’s inappropriate remarks drew widespread criticism and led to the disbanding of several political advisory bodies in other areas of the Trump administration, but the Evangelical Advisory Board continued to function and some members even defended him, causing controversy.
With the political awakening and participation of Evangelical Christians in politics, the large number of evangelical Christians has become a competitive voter resource for the two major Parties in the United States. They usually set up their own religious outreach organizations or projects in political elections, especially before American Presidential Election, and these organizations or projects are responsible for winning the votes of religious voters, especially evangelical voters. However, such organizations or projects usually disbanded after election and did not become a permanent establishment of the ruling Party or the new administration.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump, a businessman, a political nerd and a religious novice, was once considered the least religious or the least religious reliable one among all presidential candidates. A key turning point of evangelical leaders’ attitude toward Donald Trump came on June 21, 2016, when Trump met with about 900 evangelical leaders at a special meeting of Christian leaders in New York, and some of those who attended the closed-door meeting were persuaded by him to believe that Trump would qualify for obtaining their support. On the same day, the Trump campaign team announced the creation of a 26-member “Evangelical Advisory Board” headed by Michelle Backmann, a former Minnesota congresswoman. The Board became Trump’s primary campaign arm for mobilizing evangelical voters to support Trump and became his official religious advisory team after he took office. In a statement, the Trump campaign team said the mission of the Evangelical Advisory Board was “to advise Mr. Trump on issues of vital importance to Evangelicals and other religious adherents in the US because he “wants to get the sagacious advice of these (Evangelical) leaders”.
Paula white, an evangelical icon, has a way of accumulating wealth
Paula White at the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, a member of the Evangelical Advisory Board, is referred by Donald Trump as his old friend and personal pastor for many years. When Trump ran for President in 2016, he turned to her to boost his evangelical support. The White House later confirmed that Ms. White had joined the administration to advise Trump’s Faith and Opportunity Initiative, which aims to give religious groups more of a voice in government programs devoted to issues like defending religious liberty and fighting poverty.
Also in 2016, Paula White made a donation persuasion with great inducement during the Easter Sunday service: ”There’s someone that God is speaking to, to click on that donation button by minimizing the screen. And when you do to sow $1,144,” she told the crowd. “It’s not often I ask very specifically but God has instructed me and I want you to hear. This isn’t for everyone but this is for someone. When you sow that $1,144 based on John 11:44 I believe for resurrection life. ”You say, Paula, I just don’t have that, then sow $144. I don’t have that. Sow $44 but stand on John Chapter 11:44.” She emphasizes: “For those who cannot afford to the required sum, I encourage them to make a smaller donation. You say, Paula, I just don’t have that, then sow $144. I don’t have that. Sow $44 but stand on John Chapter 11:44.” In 2019, White says in an appeal for money at her website: “I Prophetically Decree and Declare Deliverance & Prosperity are Yours in 2019. This is the Year YOU Inherit YOUR Promised Land!” White adds: With obedience to this first-fruits instruction and your faith, I believe your purpose, your year, your prosperity, and power will release blessing upon your entire year! Amen!” This exhortation is equivalent to a divine command for believers: if you have money, give more; if you have no money, give less. But each believer has to give a little anyway, and each has its own price, which seems reasonable. In March, after the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, White used a televised sermon to urge evangelicals to donate money, and was forced to stop after being accused of cashing in via the epidemic.
In 2004 and 2007, the Finance Committee of the U.S. Senate conducted two investigations on Paula White, Randy white and their Evangelical Church and did not found Paula White violated the church tax exemption, but questioned Paula White’s financial condition. For example, between 2004 and 2007 the church paid a total of $2.755 million in compensation to their relatives, including Paula’s son Brad Knight and Randy’s two children, father, and sister. In addition, Randy and Paula also reportedly received $5 million a year in compensation from their church, and purchased a $3.5 million condo in Trump Tower in New York City, according to Senate documents. Furthermore, from 2004 to 2013, the U.S. federal tax office also investigated Paula White and Randy White’s personal and church finance, mainly investigating whether Paula White’s personal income and church’s financial sources violated the US federal tax law. After 2016, the U.S. government did not investigate Paula White any longer.