The “Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofits Fairness Act” was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ),Grace Meng (D-NY), and Peter King (R-NY). The bill makes it clear that houses of worship and other religious institutions are eligible to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief funds on an equal footing with other eligible nonprofits.
Over the years, Agudath Israel has worked to ensure that religious institutions obtain a full measure of FEMA disaster relief funds. This has been an ongoing challenge, due to several limitations on how and when disaster assistance may be provided to religious entities. Synagogues and Jewish religious schools affected by natural disasters have not always been able to receive the federal aid they need for repair and restoration.
During the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy a few years ago, similar legislation, supported by a coalition of religious groups, was introduced and overwhelmingly passed by the House but, unfortunately, stalled in the Senate. Since the 114th Congress convened, we have discussed revitalizing the bill with its sponsors and other key Capitol Hill leaders. Reintroduction of the bill was a topic of discussion in February during Agudath Israel’s Board of Trustees Mission to Washington and in subsequent meetings between Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president for federal affairs and Washington director, and Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R- WI) and his staff. The recent floods in Texas, and the acute damage they caused to local synagogues, affirmed the continuing relevance of the bill and provided added impetus for its support and reintroduction.