National News

Cardinal Dolan Urges Congress to Include Non-Public Schools in COVID Bill

Cardinal Timothy Dolan pointed out that 10 percent of the nation’s students attend religious or non-public schools. (Photo: Gregory A. Shemitz/CNS)

WINDSOR TERRACE — In a last-minute plea for fairness and equity, Cardinal Timothy Dolan urged congressional leaders to include religious and other non-public schools in the COVID-19 financial aid package being finalized by lawmakers ahead of an expected vote on Dec. 18 — a week before Christmas.

In its current form, the proposed COVID-19 relief bill does not include financial aid for religious schools.

“We do not want to say ‘bah humbug’ to the 10 percent of our children in non-public schools,” Cardinal Dolan said in a statement on Dec. 16.

“I call on the U.S. Congress, starting with New York State’s distinguished delegation, to treat all schoolchildren, staff and teachers equally in providing emergency funding in the fight against this insidious coronavirus. Robust emergency aid for students in non-public schools must be included in any final COVID agreement this week,” he said. 

The cardinal, who heads the Archdiocese of New York, issued the statement as Congress worked toward passage of a massive $900 billion spending bill before a deadline of midnight on Dec. 18 to avoid a government shutdown.

“The coronavirus does not discriminate based on where a child attends school. It does not discriminate based on what kind of school a teacher serves. As Congress continues to deliberate this week on COVID emergency relief, sadly, some of its membership seeks to discriminate against children, teachers, and staff who happen to attend or work in an independent or religious school by denying funds to sustain them during this nation’s ongoing, unprecedented health emergency,” the cardinal said. 

While the bill that is in the process of being drafted by leaders of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives includes financial help for struggling small businesses, an extension of unemployment benefits and a one-time stimulus check of $600 for every American, it does not include any aid for religious or non-public schools.

The CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump back in March, did include help for religious schools and institutions. Under that bill, religious schools were able to apply for government loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. PPP was a program created under the CARES Act.

Cardinal Dolan said providing relief for religious and non-public schools is the right thing to do when the nation is grappling with the pandemic. “Religious and non-governmental schools educate approximately 10 percent of our nation’s schoolchildren, and accordingly save taxpayers billions of dollars on an annual basis. Many of these children are among our nation’s most vulnerable from high-needs communities, whose parents make enormous sacrifices for their education,” he said.