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Senators Lankford, Blunt, Cornyn, Cruz Introduce Bill to Allow Houses of Worship to Receive Federal Disaster Assistance

WASHINGTON, DCSenators James Lankford (R-OK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, which would make houses of worship eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance program grants.

“In June, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran that ‘the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand…’,” said Lankford. “Likewise, houses of worship that serve our communities and are impacted by natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, should not be disqualified from disaster assistance simply because they are religious in nature. They should be able to apply for these grants just like other entities.”

“Houses of worship provide vital support services during natural disasters, including food, comfort, shelter and much more,” said Blunt. “It is imperative that they have the resources they need to recover and rebuild. I urge my colleagues to support this bill, and help ensure houses of worship are able to continue serving local communities when they need it most.”

“Nonprofits often play a critical role in filling the gaps in assistance, and houses of worship are no different,” said Cornyn. “Equal treatment in FEMA grant programs for all nonprofits, including religious institutions, must be reached so these groups can continue to help communities in Texas and elsewhere recover.”

“I am proud to join Senator Blunt in introducing the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act,” said Cruz. “Religious nonprofit organizations, including churches, synagogues, other houses of worship, and community centers should not be excluded from federal disaster assistance just because they are faith-based. This policy is discriminatory and wrong. We must ensure that religious organizations are eligible for federal assistance on the same terms as other non-profits after being damaged or destroyed during natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. These religious institutions are central to our communities, provide vital services for our friends and neighbors, and are often the first to open their doors during a devastating crisis offering aid to those in need. I encourage my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this important legislation so that we can swiftly enact this bill into law.”

Existing law provides that private nonprofit entities damaged in a natural disaster may receive financial grants from FEMA to repair their buildings. While the law does not list houses of worship among its list of examples of nonprofits eligible for this aid, it does not exclude them either. However, in the 1990’s, FEMA began implementing restrictive regulatory policies that deny services and grants to churches and other houses of worship.

Current nonprofit entities who are eligible for disaster assistance include: museums, zoos, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, schools, hospitals, and utility companies, but not houses of worship.