Reps. Smith, Meng, King Reintroduce ‘Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act’
Bill Would Allow Houses of Worship Same Status as Other Non-Profits in Seeking Federal Disaster Assistance
U.S. Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Grace Meng (D-NY), and Pete King (R-NY) today reintroduced the bipartisan Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, legislation that would put houses of worship on an even playing field with other non-profit organizations seeking disaster assistance.
“Following Superstorm Sandy, we witnessed faith communities serving the needs of their devastated neighborhoods, providing hot food, warm clothes, and shelter—even though many of those houses of worships themselves were severely damaged,” said Smith. “Houses of worship are critical public institutions within our communities, and they must not be denied the equal treatment they deserve.”
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Act (Stafford Act) provides the President with authority to issue disaster declarations, triggering federal assistance—the primary source of which is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund (DRF).
The Smith-Meng-King bill, HR 3066, stipulates that FEMA’s disaster relief program is a general government program under which disaster relief assistance is provided using criteria that are neutral with regard to religion. Any funds granted to houses of worship would be allocated in accordance with FEMA’s standard policies and procedures for other private nonprofit facilities in the wake of a natural disaster.
In 2013, just months after Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey, New York, and other Northeast regions, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 592) passed the House in a decisive 354-72 vote. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on the legislation.
“It’s hard to believe that it will soon be three years since Sandy wreaked havoc on our region. But it’s even harder to believe that houses of worship continue to be denied the same treatment that is afforded to other non-profit entities. This wrongheaded policy remains unacceptable, and we will keep up the fight until synagogues, churches, mosques and temples are permitted to receive this critical disaster aid from FEMA,” said Meng.
“The legislation is long overdue,” said King. “Organizations should not be denied federal assistance in times of need just because of their religious affiliations.”
There are precedents for federal aid to disaster-damaged houses of worship. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Congress overruled FEMA’s refusal to provide assistance to the damaged churches. In 2002, after an earthquake in Seattle, the Justice Department intervened to order FEMA to assist religious organizations damaged by the quake.