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Jul 3, 2010 4:37 PM by Chris Welty

Churches, Nonprofits Fight for Survival Amid Spill

BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. (AP) - God only knows what will happen to
churches and other nonprofit organizations who say they are
struggling for survival because of the Gulf oil spill crisis.
Months after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and its well
started gushing oil, the British petroleum giant says it has yet to
decide how to handle claims filed by religious groups and other
charitable organizations that are endangered because people can no
longer afford to contribute.
Pastor Dan Brown prays BP PLC comes up with a solution quickly:
He said he filed a $50,000 claim last month over lost revenues at
Anchor Assembly of God. His small, storefront church outlived
Hurricane Katrina and is now struggling because of the oil crisis.
Shrimpers and oystermen left jobless by the oil spill in this
seafood town can barely afford to feed their families and pay their
boat loans, much less give money to their church, Brown said.
Giving and tithing is down by $12,000 over the last few weeks, he
said, and the oil spill will cost another $38,000 in lost revenues
over the next year, making up the total of the church's claim.
"You can't tithe what you don't have," said Brown, whose
congregation operates a food bank and gives away bread each Sunday
to help struggling families. "We're fighting for our lives just
like a business."
So are environmental groups and community service agencies that
have either begun feeling a drop in revenues or fear one as the oil
crisis drags on.
Darryl Willis, head of claims for BP, said Tuesday he was
unaware of any claims filed by churches or nonprofits, and he
doesn't know how such a case will be handled.
More than 42,000 checks totaling $130 million have been written
to businesses and individuals, and BP repeatedly has said it would
pay any legitimate claim linked to losses caused by the massive oil
spill. But Willis said nonprofits are a gray area.
"I get the impact, people not working or being on this sort of
fixed income during this period," Willis said during an interview.
"(But) I don't know what the answer is. I would test the system
and let us work through that process."
Brown's church, which draws about 70 people to worship on a good
Sunday, might just be that test case. The preacher said his church
filed its claim with BP on June 18 and is still waiting on an
answer.
Mobile Baykeeper, a secular nonprofit that monitors coastal
conditions and water quality in Mobile Bay, may soon be in the same
line.
Casi Callaway, executive director of the organization, said
donations from outside the coastal region have covered the group's
$20,000 in expenses related to the oil spill so far. But membership
renewals are way down, and she fears contributions will dry up once
the oil spill crisis drops out of the headlines.
"Right now we're getting donations from all over the country,
Canada, everywhere," said Callaway. "But we don't know about our
4,000 members and their financial condition. We're very worried
about the long term, what it's going to look like."
Callaway said Mobile Baykeeper might file a claim soon, but the
United Way of Baldwin County is waiting to see what happens during
its fall fundraising campaign. The agency relies heavily on
tourist-dependent businesses that are suffering because of a sharp
drop in visitors. Executive director Rebecca Byrne is apprehensive.
The organization, which funds 43 community service agencies,
raised $1,038,750 last year but was still short of its $1.1 million
goal during the depths of the recession. This year could be even
tougher, but Byrne is waiting to seek compensation from BP.
"I've got to document a loss, and at this point I can't do it.
We knew last year with the economy it was going to be a tough time,
and this year is a double whammy," she said. "I hope I don't have
to file a claim, but I might."
The 110-church Mobile Baptist Association isn't even thinking
about a claim, despite a sharp decline in revenues both for the
organization and its 25 member churches in the coastal regional,
according to C. Thomas Wright, executive director of missions.
Churches that abide by biblical stewardship principles don't
need help from BP because they often find "miraculous provision"
for their needs, he said. There also are more practical problems to
seeking compensation from BP, he said.
"In an already declining economy, documentation that the
current reduction is directly caused by the spill is difficult and
time-consuming with no promise of return," he said.
The Coastal Mississippi Healthcare Fund Inc., which funds
indigent care and helps employees of the Singing River Hospital
System in Gautier, Miss., isn't losing money so far - the oil has
barely touched Mississippi in comparison to Alabama and Louisiana.
Spokesman Richard Lucas said there's no way to say if it might file
a claim if the worst happens, partly because of confusion over the
claims process itself.
"There is just so much uncertainty over all of this," he said.
Willis, the BP claims chief, said organizations that need help
shouldn't hesitate to ask for it by submitting a claim, even if the
outcome is uncertain.
"I would say to the person or the organization, file one,"
Willis said.

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