The House passed legislation Wednesday that would permit the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide taxpayer-funded disaster aid to synagogues, churches and other houses of worship. The bill now goes to the Senate, which observers said would feel pressured to at least consider it in light of the federal aid pouring into the tri-state area following Superstorm Sandy.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the country’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, praised the passage as “just and equitable assistance to our synagogues and other houses of worship, which serve their communities always and especially in the wake of a crisis.”
The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Grace Meng (D-Queens). It was written after houses of worship, which were heavily damaged in Sandy, learned that they were barred by law from receiving federal disaster aid to rebuild on the same terms as other private nonprofit entities already eligible for FEMA aid.
“The passage of this legislation is a great victory for the many houses of worship that were damaged or destroyed by Sandy,” Meng said in a statement. “We’re now one step closer to ending the unfair and discriminatory treatment that churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have been forced to endure since the storm hammered our region. Hopefully, it won’t be long until these institutions – and the millions of Americans who benefit from the social services they provide – have access to the same FEMA funds that other nonprofit entities have been permitted to receive.”
Smith said he was proud to have help lead the legislative effort and pointed out that houses of worship “play an indispensible role in helping our communities recover from a disast er like Sandy, and they deserve equal treatment from the federal government in disaster relief funding.”