FEMA Chruch public aid fund

Hurricane Katrina damage to First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans By Fred Powell (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Trump administration made the changes

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under Trump administration announced a policy change on January 2, 2018. This revised policy will permit houses of worship to make an application and if granted, receive the due disaster relief funds. To justify its changed policy, FEMA cited a 2017 Supreme Court ruling which said any church could be the recipient of state money when it comes to rebuilding the church playground. In June 2017, the high court gave a ruling that public funds could be given to houses of worship. Disaster relief towards places of worship was not provided by FEMA earlier.

Three Texas churches severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey sued FEMA in September 2017. The churches were Rockport's First Assembly of God Church, Cypress's Harvest Family Church, and Cleveland's Hi-Way Tabernacle. The Rockport church lost its steeple and roof along with other structural damage. The others were flooded. In their complaint filed in a Houston federal court, the churches stated that they would prefer to give an aid application but not doing so as it will be futile. The churches cited the reason of the public assistance program instituted by FEMA categorically excluding all claims made by houses of worship. They alleged that this state of affairs violated their constitutional rights when it came to freely practice their religion.

The churches said FEMA has a ban on offering relief when a minimum of 50 percent of a building is utilized for religious functions. This policy was enforced post both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy in 2005 and 2012 respectively. The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court made it much easier for the religious groups to access public aid.

That the FEMA policy has changed is evident from the first line of the 200-page strength guide itself. The agency now clearly clarifies the new stance of it welcoming churches and a number of other religious facilities which provide public services. Alex Amparo of FEMA recovery directorate wrote that the agency will not specifically discriminate negatively against private and non-profit worship houses with the non-profit applicants' subcategory within community centers category. As the public assistance program by FEMA is provided to organizations offering public services, it had earlier deemed the religious facilities to be totally not eligible. It has taken a stand against organizations which engage in religious instruction and worship.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter