Thursday, April 23, 2015

When Is a Church Not a Church? When It's a Debt Collector

The Episcopal Church (USA) has two primary sources of income: according to its latest audited financial statements for the calendar year 2013, it received a little over $27 million from its member dioceses, and it received half as much again, or $13.8 million, from the federal government. (Its total income for 2013 from invested funds was $8 million.)

The money ECUSA received from the federal government was in connection with the services provided by Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), an office within the Church organization at 815 Second Avenue in New York that assists the State Department in relocating refugees throughout the United States.

As I noted in this earlier post, the Church is very dependent upon Government reimbursements for its EMM expenditures in order to balance its books. For calendar 2014, for example, ECUSA reported a supposed operating surplus of $2.4 million, but that claim ignored the fact that as of the end of 2014, ECUSA had spent nearly $3.5 million more through EMM than it had yet received back from the Government.

So we have a national Church that depends for approximately one-third of its annual budget on money from the U.S. Government. Nevertheless, this still does not tell the full tale. Buried in a Note (#13, at page 27) to the audited financial statements is this remarkable statistic (with my bold added, for emphasis):
In connection with its cooperative agreements with the United States Government for refugee resettlement, the Society acts as the collection agent for travel loans made to refugees by the International Organization for Migration. In return for these services, the Society retains 25% of all loan collections as a recovery of its administrative costs incurred. As of December 31, 2013 and 2012 , there were $11,339 and $9,961, respectively, of refugee loans outstanding. Such amounts are not reflected on the accompanying consolidated financial statements, and the Society does not guarantee the loans.
Those two numbers ($11,339 and $9,961) need to have three more zeros tacked onto them, because the audited statements' numbers are all expressed as thousands. So let me make it plain:

As of the end of calendar 2013, ECUSA had undertaken to collect for the U.S. Government a total of $11,339,000 in loans made by the Government to refugees for their expenses in being brought to the United States for relocation.  Given that EMM assists approximately 5,000 such refugees each year, and assuming that the loans are outstanding for an average of three to four years before they are fully repaid,  that would work out to about $1,500 per refugee if they all received travel loans (and I have no way of knowing if they did or not; the loan amount per refugee would be higher if some of them paid their own way here).

And -- most significant of all -- ECUSA will retain 25% of everything it collects from the refugees to pay for its "administrative costs", or (if all loans outstanding at the end of 2013 are collected) a total of $ 2,835,000 to its bottom line -- a figure, however, which is not reported in the audited statements.

Not all of that $2.8 million for loan collection will come into ECUSA's coffers in the space of a year -- the loans are paid back over a number of years. To find out just how much ECUSA earns each year from this unusual source, we have to go to the triennial budgets, with their figures for what was actually earned.

From the Presiding Bishop's annotated budget proposal for the 2013-2015 triennium, we learn (p. 2, line 13) that the Church earned a total of $2,163,008 from its debt collection efforts during the 2010-2012 triennium, and incurred collection costs for that same period (p. 5, line 87) of just $983,442. As a debt collector from 2010 through 2012, therefore, the Church added a total of $1,179,566 to its bottom line, or approximately $393,189 of pure profit per year.

And from the latest year-end statement of operations for calendar 2014, we learn (line 13, column 4) that in just its most recent year, ECUSA took in a total of $933,218 from the refugees it assisted -- some $223,218 over budget, and attributed in the note at the far right to "Exceptional performance by the Refugee Loan Collections staff." At the same time, its loan collection expenses for 2014 (first page, fourth line from the bottom) were just $548,343, for a net surplus from debt collecting of  $384,875 -- so the profitability of refugee loans continues at almost the same pace, thanks to the staff's extraordinary efforts.

Does that claim of a "$2.4 million surplus" in 2014 still look the same to you? Was it achieved, in part, on the backs of the refugees whom the Government paid ECUSA to assist?

What in the world is a church doing in the debt collection business, and pocketing more than twice its actual costs of collection while doing so? Would that not be considered excessive, even for a loan shark?

And remember -- the money the Government lets the Church keep for its troubles reduces what the Government is repaid on its loans, so that the Church in reality is profiting handsomely at the taxpayers' expense -- to say nothing of the refugees whom the Church so efficiently cajoles into making payments.
A search of the Church's digital archives for resolutions authorizing debt collection activities by EMM turned up nothing as far back as 1976, which is long before the current State Department relocation programs were in place. All I could find was this Resolution 1997-D081, which stated:
Resolved, That the 72nd General Convention of the Episcopal Church charge Episcopal Migration Ministries with the responsibility for developing and implementing an advocacy agenda which reflects the concern of the Episcopal Church that the U.S. Government uphold a generous program of refugee admissions in response to the worldwide refugee crisis, maintain a just system of asylum for persecuted persons seeking safety in the United States, and ensure that needy immigrants are not unfairly denied access to essential services and benefits.
Is EMM actually carrying out this charge? ECUSA needs to be more up-front with its members about how much it takes in from its EMM operations, and justify why those revenues (and related expenses, which -- apart from debt collection -- are always projected to balance exactly, since they are 100% reimbursed by the Government) are needed by the Church, per se.

ECUSA already operates a separate non-profit organization, Episcopal Relief and Development, with which it furnishes disaster relief and help to those abroad, and through which it strives to meet its Millennium Development Goals. Perhaps that is where it should transfer its loan collection activities, as well -- if indeed, it seems appropriate at all for a non-profit organization to be in the debt collection business (pace, Archbishop Welby).


  1. A Church should be a charitable organization and not just a non-profit one. For a Church to reap a profit from what should be done at a loss is... well let's just say, less than righteous.

  2. Very good analysis of a little known TEC "industry" that was a key factor in the recommendation made by "The Executive Oversight Group" that church center headquarters should not be moved away from 815 2nd Ave. contrary to the instructions of GC12 D016. The Group's report, made to the Executive Council on 2-3-13 (per ENS) noted "Episcopal Migration Ministries might be threatened by a move because it is unlikely many staffers would leave New York since resettlement jobs abound there. If a major loss of staff impacted EMM’s abilities to offer the services for which it receives government grants, the ministry might have to be discontinued." Who populates the Oversight Group protecting the collection agents - the PB, Bishop Sauls-COO, Kurt Barnes-Treasurer, Paul Nix-Legal Counsel and 6 other of the most senior TEC permanent staff. The foxes guarding the hen house . . . and collection agency! Cushman & Wakefield, int'l. real estate consultants, recommended a sale and re-location.

  3. At any time has the United States, in connection with these loans or collections of payments of these loans, ever promulgated requests for proposals or received bids from ANY nongovernmental entity, whether such entity is a for-profit or not-for-profit entity, charitable entity, or religious denomination?

  4. Just another twist of the screwdriver, drilling the screw of rot into the coffin of the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishopess's plans to help fundamentally transform America into a secular humanist, marxist septic tank populated by anchorbabymothers and soul-less spawn helps us along the way to the Dust Bin of History.
    Separation of Church and State, anyone?

    Good to be back among you all, in any regard.
    El Gringo Viejo