New Legislation Signed by President Makes FEMA Policy Change Federal Law
Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – applauded Congress for passing, and President Trump for signing, a bipartisan spending bill that codifies a new era of fairness for disaster-stricken synagogues, churches and other houses of worship by making them eligible by law for federal disaster relief through FEMA. The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center spearheaded the coalition pressing for the bill’s FEMA provision. The bill includes almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid.
In January, the Trump Administration issued new FEMA guidance ending the policy barring disaster-damaged houses of worship from seeking the agency’s assistance. The change came after more than a decade of advocacy on the issue by the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center and its coalition partners. The provision included in the new law codifies the agency’s recent policy change into federal law so that synagogues, churches, mosques and other house of worship are eligible for federal disaster aid on the same terms as other nonprofits such as museums, community centers and libraries.
The Orthodox Union’s allies in this effort included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.), who sponsored the provision as well as senators who supported it, John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament, who has been fighting for more than a decade for the law, stated:
“This is a very welcome change to the federal government’s unfair treatment of houses of worship, which made it so much harder for them to rebuild after the devastation wrought by hurricanes such as Harvey and Irma, and years ago by Superstorm Sandy. This puts an end to an era of discrimination.”
Orthodox Union President Mark (Moishe) Bane stated:
“Our synagogues and other houses of worship across the country have long served on the front lines during natural disasters, providing life-saving assistance to their surrounding communities while themselves contending with damage. This new provision will help them continue to serve as critical support centers during the devastation of natural disasters. We are very appreciative of the strong leadership of Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer, as well as the support of Representatives Smith, King and Meng; Senators Blunt, McCaskill, Lankford, Boozman and Menendez; and the backing of the Trump Administration and our many coalition partners.”