FEMA recently announced that churches and other nonprofit houses of worship are now eligible for disaster assistance, effective for disasters declared on or after August 23, 2017 as well as for applications for assistance that were pending as of the same date. The announcement marks a change from the restrictive regulatory policies, implemented in the 1990’s, which denied federal assistance to houses of worship for emergency relief and repairs, simply because of their religious status.
This issue came to the forefront in recent months when churches and other faith-based groups were among the first and most widespread responders to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, providing shelter and other aid to their communities, and yet those same houses of worship were being denied federal assistance for their own repairs and rebuilding. The paradox led to two key lawsuits brought by three churches and two synagogues as well as proposed legislation from senators in Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
In its announcement of the policy change, FEMA cited a June 2017 Supreme Court case in which the court ruled that houses of worship should not be excluded from federal funds available to other charitable organizations.
Read FEMA’s official press release here.