Should Churches Damaged by Superstorm Sandy Receive FEMA Funds?
Update (Feb. 13): The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that will allow churches (and other houses of worship) damaged by Hurricane Sandy to apply for taxpayer-funded relief aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The bill is also expected to pass the Senate, according to Religion News Service.
According to The Hill, the House bill "would amend the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to include houses of worship in the list of non-profit groups that are eligible for federal disaster aid."
FEMA's current policy does not allow churches, synagogues, and mosques to receive federal aid, although religiously affiliated groups may apply.
With the U.S. Senate set to vote today on an additional $50.5 billion in disaster relief funds for victims of Superstorm Sandy, damaged churches are hoping to convince lawmakers to let them apply for aid.
Currently, America's separation of church and state prevents churches and religious institutions from receiving public funds, even if those funds are used to repair damage caused by natural disasters. Jewish synagogues and politicians have been leading the complaints against the allegedly unfair allocation of federal disaster relief. But according to a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "hundreds of [Catholic and Christian] houses of worship were damaged by Sandy," including at least 200 Catholic parishes.
"'The wind and waves did not discriminate when it came to destroying property,'" Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of New York, told the WSJ. "'The houses of worship are the very bedrock of the neighborhoods now trying to rebuild. To not offer natural disaster assistance grants to rebuild a house of worship just doesn't make any sense.'"
Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced an amendment to the Hurricane Sandy recovery appropriations bill which says "houses of worship that were damaged or destroyed deserve federal assistance," according to a statement from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights,which supports the bill.
CT reported on Superstorm Sandy, including how the disaster united NYC churches and how Christian recovery efforts spotlighted the surge in Southern Baptist church plants in New England.