From Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s V.P. for Federal Affairs and Washington Director
Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization, applauds full House passage of legislation that will provide vitally-needed supplemental assistance to those who continue to suffer from the devastation wrought by the recent hurricanes. We hope it will go far in aiding these individuals, families and institutions rebuild and recover from these disasters.
We are particularly gratified that this legislation included provisions of what is known as the “Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act,” which is intended to make clear that houses of worship are eligible to receive FEMA disaster relief on an equal footing with other eligible nonprofits. Agudath Israel has been among the organizations in the forefront of promoting the legislation and congratulates Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) for introducing, and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) for co-sponsoring, the measure.
Over the years, in the aftermath of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, Agudath Israel has been engaged in helping to ensure that houses of worship (and other religious entities) obtain a full measure of FEMA aid for the repair and restoration of their disaster-damaged facilities. Unfortunately, unnecessary and unfair policy limitations placed specifically on these structures by FEMA have presented formidable challenges, essentially precluding such relief. Without the much needed aid, they often face staggering costs that make rebuilding prohibitive.
There is no reason to treat houses of worship in this discriminatory manner. Supreme Court decisions, as well as executive action, in recent years have allowed federal aid to go to religious institutions when the assistance is made broadly available and is distributed on a religion-neutral basis — as the FEMA program does.
Houses of worship are an integral part of American communities and play an important role in assisting devastated neighborhoods revitalize and rebuild. After natural disasters, they provide emotional, spiritual and material help to those in need. They should be treated like other vital nonprofits and receive federal assistance without prejudice or discrimination.
We urge the Senate to swiftly take up and pass the companion bill.