Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – through its Institute for Public Affairs, applauded a set of regulatory reforms announced by President George W. Bush designed to ensure that the federal government and its programs treat America’s faith institutions in a fair and appropriate manner. The President announced the package of reforms at a conference regarding the faith-based initiative in Philadelphia.
Included in the announced reforms, are changes to the regulations governing the eligibility criteria for federal disaster relief administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Until now, a synagogue, church, religious school or other religious facility which suffered damage due to a physical disaster (such as an earthquake or tornado) was not eligible for federal disaster relief funds solely because FEMA regulations bar the award of funds to reconstruct religious structures.
This regulation has caused countless religious institutions great difficulties. One representative example is the Seattle Hebrew Academy in Washington State. It suffered severe damage in an earthquake that struck the northwest in 2000. Despite meeting every other eligibility criterion, FEMA denied the Hebrew Academy funds because of its religious nature.
Nathan Diament, director of the Union’s Institute and was in attendance at the President’s announcement in Philadelphia stated that “President Bush has rightly recognized this policy governing FEMA, and those like it, as wrongheaded and has reformed them to ensure that the federal government treats faith institutions fairly. The Orthodox Jewish community is deeply appreciative of the President’s commitment to religious liberty and equality for all Americans.”