St. Vartan Cathedral, New York (photo Aram Arkun, 2019)

Diocesan Council Chair Says Furloughs, Pay Reductions Are Necessary in COVID-19 Era

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NEW YORK — The adverse financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are rippling through the world, and Armenian institutions are not exempt. The Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America is perhaps the first major Armenian institution in the United States that has taken the dramatic step of furloughing employees and instituting pay cuts.

Fr. Krikor Sabounjian, chair of the Diocesan Council, said, “Due to the global situation, we were forced to take aggressive but hopefully temporary actions that will be effective from May 1 – July 31, affecting every employee of the Diocesan operations including the Primate. These actions included across the board furloughs and pay reductions. We did our best to keep our people whole and in fact we chose to pay everyone for March and April and contrary to other non-profit organizations at this time we chose not to lay anyone off. We also chose to continue to provide employee benefits for all.”

Fr. Krikor Sabounjian

He said that the challenges facing the Diocese are in fact no different than what Armenian businesses, individuals and other institutions are facing in the US. In addition to the annual distributions from the portfolio of the Armenian Church Endowment Fund (ACEF), he pointed out that the three main sources of Diocesan income are facility rentals, donations and support from the parishes. All three have been affected, so that despite the 2020 ACEF distribution, Sabounjian said a substantial shortfall is anticipated for this year.

Bishop Daniel Findikyan, during a presentation at the weekly Armenian-American Health Professionals Organization Zoom conference on the COVID-19 pandemic on May 7 said that the financial shortfall this year may be somewhere around $900,000, but this figure is contingent on many factors.

Though in the past, the expenses for the maintenance and repair of the Diocesan complex in New York has been a major concern, Sabounjian did not state that these costs were an immediate factor contributing to the current steps taken. He said that a study of facility needs was well underway, but its conclusions were delayed due to the pandemic.

When asked whether funds from the Diocesan Annual Appeal, the Endowment Campaign, or a special fund for spending for the Primate might be used to help in this crisis, Fr. Sabounjian said this was all taken into account during decision making, and further noted that though many restrict funds might exist, borrowing against them “is not an option.” On the other hand, he said, the Diocese has applied for federal Payroll Protection Program funds, and is awaiting the results.

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Sabounjian was asked whether any special fundraising had been done to try to offset the projected deficit. He replied, “We are in the process of enhancing our strategy for fundraising, especially in light of this pandemic. In addition, we are hopeful that our people will support the Diocese’s work, as they always have.”

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