The Jewish Link reported in December that the COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress and signed by President Trump included “a whopping $2.75 billion” for nonpublic schools; this was especially remarkable as the federal government has rarely provided a set-aside of direct federal funding for nonpublic schools. The primary leader of the effort to have these funds included in the bill was the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, the nonpartisan public policy arm of the OU that represents nearly 1,000 congregations and hundreds of Jewish day schools nationwide.
Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament spoke at that time about the strong alliance the OU had formed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and how the two groups worked together to conduct a “full court press” lobbying effort for the provision of aid to nonpublic schools. This effort included personal outreach to different U.S. senators to persuade them about the merits of this aid.
Now, three months later, the advocacy center has proven that lightning can strike twice in the same place, especially when the new Senate Majority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is an ally in the effort.
As Congress worked on a new COVID relief bill proposed by President Biden, the OU again worked with their coalition partner, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to make sure the bill included elements that would support people in faith communities. They managed to secure two impressive provisions in the bill passed earlier this month and signed into law by President Biden on March 11.
Those two provisions are:
An additional $2.75 billion set aside to aid Jewish and other nonpublic schools, to reimburse them for COVID-19 related expenses such as sanitizing supplies, purchases of personal protective equipment, HVAC upgrades, purchasing physical barriers, obtaining new software, revising educational plans, and more.
Expanded access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), to now allow participation by nonprofit organizations with 500 or more employees (so long as they do not all work in the same site). This builds on the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in spring 2020, which established the PPP loan program and opened it to nonprofit organizations but limited it to those with fewer than 500 staff members.
In an interview with The Jewish Link, Diament noted that the provisions for expanded access to PPP loans will benefit nonprofit organizations working across the country, including Jewish Federations and their agencies and several large Orthodox community organizations, as well as quite a few large day schools that were not previously eligible for PPP funds. “This would not have happened without the leadership of Senator Chuck Schumer,” Diament said, also praising Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan for his strong partnership in advocating for these provisions.
After the bill passed the Senate, the National Education Association (the largest teachers’ union in the U.S.) issued a statement to “convey our strong disappointment in the Senate’s inclusion of … $2.75 billion for private schools—despite multiple avenues and funding previously available to private schools.”
Thankfully for the Jewish community and other faith communities, the NEA’s reservations were not widely shared and the provisions remained in the final versions of the bill that were passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.
As with the prior COVID relief bill, the funding will be apportioned to the states and distributed by the governors. The OU will provide guidance to schools on how to access the new relief funds.