The program was implemented to allow small businesses to keep employees on their payroll during disruptions due to the pandemic.
Dream City, the church that held President Donald Trump’s rally in Phoenix last month, received up to $2 million in Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans.
The money was awarded in April to The First Assembly of God of the City of Phoenix (Dream City’s old name), the location at 13613 N Cave Creek Road where the rally was held. Joy Christian School, a religious K-12 school operated by the church at 21000 N. 75th Ave. in Glendale also received PPP funds.
It’s unclear the exact amount the two locations received, but each loan was between $350,000 and $1 million.
The federal government program was implemented to allow small businesses to keep employees on their payroll during disruptions due to the pandemic. But while Joy Christian School lists 87 jobs retained thanks to the loan, Dream City Church reported zero. It’s unclear if that means the church did not report a number, or if the money was used elsewhere.
Dream City has been offering online services and other programs but has paused most in-person functions.
The church did not respond to a request for comment.
Dream City drummed up controversy for hosting the president’s June 23 rally in its 3,000-person auditorium during a pandemic.
Church leaders said they did not know that Trump would be present when they agreed to hold the Students for Trump rally, organized by think tank Turning Point USA.
The president attracted a large crowd of people who did not wear masks, despite Phoenix having a mandate in place requiring masks in public settings where social distancing is not possible.
Dream City also received pushback for claiming a new air purification system in its buildings could keep the public safe from COVID-19.
The church’s pastor and CFO told people they were safe to come to the rally because the system could kill the virus in the air.
However, they did not address the fact that the virus can be spread from people talking in close quarters, coughing or sneezing near each other, or from touching surfaces that have respiratory droplets from another person on them.
Church leaders later deleted the video sharing these claims and released a statement.
“Apparently there was some confusion about the technicalities of the operational effectiveness of that system contained in social media postings by church employees,” the statement read. “As soon as those inaccuracies were discovered, the postings were removed and a corrective statement was issued by the Church. Although the system apparently does not operate at levels originally hoped for, it is believed that the system improves air quality and remains in use at the church.”
Distribution Raising Eyebrows
Notably, many other PPP loans ended up in the hands of Trump allies.
As much as $273 million in federal coronavirus aid was awarded to more than 100 companies that are owned or operated by major donors to President Donald Trump’s election efforts, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.
Many were among the first to be approved for a loan in early April, when the administration was struggling to launch the lending program. Only eight businesses had to wait until early May before securing the aid, according to the AP’s review of data released Monday.
The Trump-connected companies obtained the aid through the PPP, which extends a lifeline to small businesses struggling to navigate the pandemic.
All told, the Trump supporters who run these companies have contributed at least $11.1 million since May 2015 to Trump’s campaign committees, the Republican National Committee and America First Action, a super PAC that has been endorsed by Trump, the AP review found. Each donor gave at least $20,000.
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There is no evidence the companies received favorable treatment as a result of their ties to Trump, and the businesses account for just a fraction of the overall spending under the program.
But the distribution of relief money is coming under heightened scrutiny after the Trump administration initially refused to reveal which companies received loans, only to cave under growing bipartisan pressure from Congress. On Monday, the Treasury Department released the names of companies that received loans that were greater than $150,000, though they didn’t release specific dollar figures and instead gave ranges for the dollar value of the aid.
Companies and nonprofits typically must have fewer than 500 workers to qualify for the PPP. About $130 billion was unclaimed as the application deadline closed June 30.
With money still available, Congress voted to extend the program just as it was expiring, setting a new date of Aug. 8.
The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date because the administration has refused to release details on loans under $150,000 — the vast majority of borrowers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.