The Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that houses of worship can create accounts on the agency’s Grants Portal, and that it is hosting a series of “how-to” webinars to instruct local community leaders on how to navigate the portal system. FEMA will also be conducting overview webinars on the application process for COVID -19 assistance.
The portals will allow houses of worship, in the midst of a disaster, to upload critical documents and make them aware of when federal declarations are made in their areas. The agency noted that pre-registration is valuable because in the upheaval of a disaster, when a facility is damaged, it can be difficult to collect the information and documentation needed to pursue a claim and request public assistance.
Agudath Israel of America welcomed the announcement. “We are particularly pleased,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, the organization’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, “because it is another concrete step in providing houses of worship the full measure of participation in federal disaster relief.”
Agudath Israel had been among a small number of groups that were in the forefront of a years-long successful effort to reverse FEMA’s policy of denying houses of worship disaster aid. Since early 2019, however, the eligibility of houses of worship has been fully enshrined in policy by the Trump Administration and in statute by Congress.
The FEMA Public Assistance Program is the agency’s largest grant program. Under it, supplemental assistance is provided to state and local governments, as well as to eligible private nonprofit organizations – including houses of worship – to reimburse communities responding to and recovering from major disasters. The agency announcement states that “the program provides funding for emergency assistance to save lives and protect property and assists with funding for permanently restoring community infrastructure affected by a federally declared incident.”
“It is a vitally important program for our shuls, schools and other charitable institutions, and every community should engage with FEMA to take full advantage of the portal services and webinar opportunities,” observed Rabbi Cohen. “It could make a real difference in times of disaster, chas v’chalilah.”