KFOR Investigates: How Washington D.C.-based Museum of the Bible qualified for OKC CARES Act funds

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Museum of the Bible, physically located in Washington D.C., qualified for Oklahoma City’s limited CARES Act funds because their corporate office is located in Oklahoma City on the Hobby Lobby campus. 

The CARES Act money was federal money given to Oklahoma City and was set aside for small businesses. In this case, dispersing it through the “Small Business Continuity Program.”

The president of the Alliance for Economic Development in Oklahoma City said the money went specifically to Oklahoma City businesses that could prove they had taken serious losses during the pandemic and the museum qualified for the local funds. 

“We try to treat everybody fairly and in the same manner,” said Cathy O’Connor, the president of the alliance. 

O’Connor said the Alliance for Economic Development came together with the city and the Chamber of Commerce to approve the businesses. They received 1,200 applications over two rounds of funding for this program. They got 600 applications in the second round of funding. Just over 250 of those applications were approved, and one of them was for the Museum of the Bible.  

“The way the program is structured is we looked at basic financial information,” O’Connor said. “Most of the ones that did not get funded were because we exhausted the funding that the council allocated, and the second round was handled on a first come first serve basis.” 

The museum is physically located in Washington D.C. However, they qualified for $100,000 of the Oklahoma City program’s funds. 

“The office and the employees and their headquarters was documented as being in Oklahoma City, that’s how they were eligible to participate in our program,” O’Connor said. 

Their office is located on the sprawling Hobby Lobby campus in Southwest Oklahoma City. The entrance is located by the warehouse. The top of the entrance says “The Book”. More than 250 employees work for the museum, 79 of those are in the Oklahoma City office. 

“They incur expenses here related to those employees,” O’Connor said. “The expenses are actually recorded for a great deal here in Oklahoma City and $100,000 is probably about what it would cost to keep 79 employees employed for some period of time here in Oklahoma City.” 

Charlotte Clay, a media relations manager for the museum, sent KFOR this statement on September 4: 

“Last spring, we were grateful to receive a PPP loan when the museum had to stay closed for more than three months, taking in no other revenue. We appreciate the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who voted to provide this support to institutions like Museum of the Bible. The relief package enabled us to continue to pay all employees during the closure. Since reopening and the end of the PPP loan, we applied for and received support from the Small Business Grant Program to help sustain museum services and employees in Oklahoma City. The museum is thankful for this critical assistance in light of pandemic-related revenue challenges due to the currently unfavorable tourism environment.” 

CHARLOTTE CLAY, MUSEUM OF THE BIBLE

KFOR dug deeper, using an open records request to get the museum’s application for the funds. The application showed that they received $4.2 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government to use while the museum closed down between March and June. The Museum said they opened back up in mid to late June. However, they claim the PPP money only covered them for 12 weeks. They wrote in their application they’ve had a total loss of revenue of about $5.8 million amid this pandemic. 

“Which left around $1.6 million that was eligible for reimbursement through the CARES Act funding that the city received,” O’Connor said. 

This means that they were eligible for the maximum amount of Oklahoma City’s funding. They applied for $100,000. They got it. O’Connor said they used previous tax returns, and the open records request showed they used admissions and gift shop revenue for March 19, 2019 to July 19, 2019.

They also used March 20, 2020, to July 20, 2020, for the revenue. In the 2019 period they state they had $6,429,778 million in revenue. In the 2020 period, they had $580,518 in revenue. Subtracting the two brought them to the $1.6 million left uncovered that O’Connor said could be covered by Oklahoma City’s funds. So, KFOR asked if that money given would stay here in Oklahoma. 

“Does all that money have to be spent here in OKC?” We asked. “Or is there any way that they have to prove that [they] didn’t send this to Washington.” 

“It does not have to go to the employees in OKC directly,” O’Connor said. “It has to go to either offset lost revenue or to reimburse them for expenses that the organization incurred.” 

David Green, the owner of Hobby Lobby funded the museum for $500 million in years past. He has an estimated net worth of about $7.6 billion according to Forbes. 

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