Rep. Grimm Votes to Make Houses of Worship Eligible for Sandy Relief Aid

Feb 13, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Michael Grimm (R,C-SI/Brooklyn) voted for the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 592), a bill that would allow churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to be eligible for disaster relief aid.  This would put houses of worship on a level playing field with other nonprofit organizations seeking disaster assistance. Rep. Grimm is a cosponsor of the bill that passed the House 354-72.

“So many places of worship were severely damaged when Superstorm Sandy ravaged our coastlines. This bill will put them on a level playing field with other nonprofits by allowing them to apply for disaster assistance.  This is not about religious favoritism, but about providing aid to repair structural damage to places that employ local residents and provide crucial services to those in need throughout our communities. I was proud to cosponsor this bill and urge the Senate to move quickly, so that our local churches and synagogues may have the means to rebuild quickly,” said Rep. Grimm. 

 H.R. 592 clarifies that the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief program, is a general government program under which federal assistance following a natural disaster can be rendered using criteria that are neutral with regard to religion. Congress has previously enacted laws providing financial assistance to religious nonprofit institutions, including houses of worship, on terms equal to other eligible nonprofit organizations.

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.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Grace Meng (D-NY), and co-sponsored by Peter King (R-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Bill Pascrell Jr.(D-NJ).

The bill has been endorsed by numerous organization and individuals, including Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor; American Jewish Committee; Council of New York City; Family Research Council; The Jewish Federations of North America; The Most Rev. William Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Centre (Long Island); N.J. State Assn. of Jewish Federations ; National Association of Evangelicals; Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Council of the City of New York; Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; United Jewish Appeal (UJA) of N.Y. ; U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.