Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – called upon the U.S. Congress to pass H.R. 592 – the “Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act.” The legislation will be voted on by the House of Representatives tomorrow – February 13.
The bipartisan legislation – sponsored by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Grace Meng (D-NY) – will amend federal law to ensure that churches, synagogues and other houses of worship damaged in Hurricane Sandy (and in future disasters) will be eligible to receive federal aid to rebuild their facilities on the same terms as other private nonprofit entities already eligible for FEMA assistance.
In the wake of Sandy, the Orthodox Union has spearheaded efforts – first through negotiations with the Obama Administration – and now through legislation to deliver this equitable and just assistance to the houses of worship which serve their communities always, and especially in the wake of a crisis. The legislative effort enjoys broad support from many organizations and leaders including: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Council of Churches of the City of New York, the New York Board of Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federations of N. America, UJA-Federation of New York, the Archdiocese of Trenton and Newark, Agudath Israel and more.
Orthodox Union executive director for public policy Nathan Diament stated:
“Synagogues, churches and other houses of worship are the backbone of local communities, alongside other nonprofit organizations. Once the Federal government, through FEMA, has the policy to help communities rebuild in the wake of a disaster such as Sandy, and assisting nonprofits is included in that policy, it is only fair and just to aid houses of worship to rebuild. As we have seen in the wake of Sandy and countless other disasters, houses of worship are truly among the “first responders” to such crises, but they need help too. There are many precedents for such aid – perhaps most notably the federal aid to rebuild churches damaged in the 1995 terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City – and current Supreme Court rulings allow for religious institutions to receive aid in the context of a general government program that operates on the basis of neutral criteria. We greatly appreciate the leadership of Reps. Smith and Meng, as well as Majority Leader Eric Cantor on this issue. We urge the House to pass HR592 tomorrow.”