Houses of worship should receive federal disaster relief funding, Queens Congresswoman says

hurricane relief
U.S. Air Force photo by/1st Lt. Zachary West

A Queens lawmaker’s push to allow places of worship to receive vital federal disaster assistance is gaining ground.

The Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which included language to allow for the financial relief, passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Nov. 30, Congresswoman Grace Meng announced. The reforms will soon be voted on by the entire House of Representatives.

The measure would enable houses of worship, currently shut out of receiving federal disaster assistance because of their religious status, to have equal access to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds as secular groups. The federal agency would be charged with determining the eligibility of churches and groups for relief as it would not private, nonprofit and secular groups under current law.

Meng pointed out that many religious institutions provide “critical assistance” to their surrounding communities in times of need.

“These include crucial services such as child care, food pantries and other vital programs,” the Congresswoman said. “They must no longer be treated differently than other nonprofit entities.”

Meng and other representatives from New York, New Jersey and Arizona originally introduced the measure in the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, shortly after the events of Hurricane Sandy. The bipartisan bill passed the House but was held up in the Senate, according to Meng.

The bill is being considered by lawmakers in the wake of a string of natural disasters in areas including Texas, California and Puerto Rico.

“Five years after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on many churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, and months after hurricanes pounded Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, houses of worship are still not permitted to receive disaster relief funding from FEMA,” Meng said. “This continues to be extremely unfair and it’s way past time to change this misguided policy.”

Read the full bill here.