Laid-off church workers lack safety net

In a difficult economy, churches suffer the same way that other small businesses do. Income is down in many places and that means that expenses need to be cut. Often that means cutting salary expenses. The problem is that many people who are laid off from church positions are discovering they lack the same safety net that other laid-off workers can count upon.

The Hampton Roads Pilot points out:

“For those who are made jobless, unemployment benefits are a big piece of the social safety net. In Virginia, payments range from $54 to $378 weekly. Benefits are available only to people whose employers paid the unemployment tax.

Jane Dembert made that discovery after getting laid off by Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk earlier this year. Dembert was the church’s director of communications and had worked there 17 years when she lost her job. She filed for state unemployment benefits and was denied.

The Rev. C. Berkley Ford of Christ and St. Luke’s said the cutback was a painful choice. He said the church was grappling with lower revenue and higher demand for services such as its soup kitchen. He gave his own cost-of-living pay raise back to the church.

‘We have no say over whether or not an employee who loses their job for economic reasons is entitled to collect unemployment insurance,’ he said. ‘That’s determined by the state agency.’

Dembert is allowed to stay on the church’s health insurance policy for 18 months, though she must pay 100 percent of the premiums.

Coleman Walsh, chief administrative law judge with the employment commission, said his experience is that most people don’t know faith-based groups are exempt from unemployment taxes.”

Read the full article here.

Are we really being fair in the Church when we try to hold costs down by avoiding paying unemployment taxes? Is this something that congregations need to be able to opt into?

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