Development and Peace lays off staff for summer because of financial hit of COVID-19

The 2020 Share Lent collection was "virtual only" since churches across the country were closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

Staring down the barrel of a $5 million deficit, Development and Peace / Caritas Canada is laying off its 70 employees for eight weeks over the summer while management takes unpaid leaves of absence or reduces their working hours to two or three days a week.

The agreement between the union that represents the workers and management will save the Catholic development and aid agency nearly $1 million, in addition to about $1.5 million in spending cuts already this year.

The layoffs and other budget cuts are dramatic, but they don’t spell the end of Development and Peace, said deputy executive director Romain Duguay.

“I don’t think this is going to be the end. It will definitely be a year of transition next year,” he said.

Development and Peace’s money problems are coming at them from all sides. Because of COVID-19 there was no Share Lent collection this year. The collection brought in $6.7 million last year.

However, the non-profit can’t apply for COVID-19 wage subsidies of up to 75 per cent because the money collected in April isn’t forwarded from dioceses to the Development and Peace bank account until August. So, while parishes and other church organizations dependent on the collection basket can show sufficient losses to qualify for the Canada Employment Wage Subsidy, Development and Peace is out in the cold.

“The real loss will happen in August and September. We don’t know what will be the situation at that time. We’re looking carefully to be able to apply,” Duguay said. “We will ask the government for special consideration.”

The Development and Peace national council, elected by the movement’s 10,000 members, gave management a mandate to eliminate the deficit this year. Before the pandemic, the Caritas agency was on track to slay the $521,000 monster from 2018-2019. They had already brought the shortfall down from $3.9 million in 2017-2018.

Under the pressure of investigations into its partners over the last three years, Share Lent revenues have been on a constant slide — from $8.3 million collected in 2017, to $7.6 million in 2018, to $6.7 million in 2019.

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Turning to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) for help, Development and Peace has had verbal reassurance that the bishops will help. There’s a possibility of a make-up collection in the fall. This would certainly be welcome, but it would come after the organization’s fiscal year-end on Aug. 31, Duguay said.

“The CCCB actually, as you know, is in the same shape we are because all of the churches are closed,” he said.