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Joel Osteen to pay back $4.4 million in pandemic loans

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The church led by pastor Joel Osteen is set to pay back $4.4 million (£3.2 million) in loans from the federal government. 

The loans were issued as part of the Paycheck Protection Program which was set up to help businesses continue to pay staff during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Osteen's Lakewood Church said it started receiving the funds in July 2020 after going months without the "ability to collect substantial donations".

Lakewood takes more than $40 million in donations per annum, according to reports.

The church said that Osteen did not personally receive any of the funds. The money was used to pay the church's 368 employees.

“Like many organisations temporarily shuttered by the pandemic, this loan provided Lakewood Church short-term financial assistance in 2020 ensuring that its approximately 350 employees and their families would continue to receive a paycheck and full health care benefits," Lakewood said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle. 

After shutting down its in-person services at the height of the pandemic, Lakewood initially said it would not be applying for the loans because it believed the lockdown "would only last a few weeks". 

"However, as the shutdown persisted month after month, given the economic uncertainty, Lakewood finally applied for the PPP loan and has been able to provide full salaries and benefits including health insurance coverage to all of its employees and their families," the church explained.

Lakewood is one of the the largest churches in the United States with an average weekly attendance of more than 43,000. 

Joel Osteen has an estimated net worth of more than $50 million. 

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