Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America welcomed a White House policy announcement Tuesday that religious-non-profit providers of “essential government-type” services whose facilities were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, will be treated on equal terms with secular-non-profit providers of such services and thus be eligible for loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund their repairs and reconstruction.
Federal law provides that non-profit providers of “essential services” such as schools, nursing homes, health clinics and the like are eligible for federal disaster aid once they exhaust their private insurance awards. The policy toward a religious non-profit provider was called into some question when, in 2000, FEMA denied a reconstruction grant application by the Seattle Hebrew Academy which had been severely damaged in an earthquake.
After the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations brought the school’s situation to the attention of the White House, President Bush issued and executive order in December, 2002, directing FEMA to reverse its internal policy and – consistent with the statutory provision – award the grant to the Hebrew Academy on the same, religion-neutral terms as any other disaster stricken non-profit school.
On Tuesday, White House director of faith-based & community initiatives James Towey announced on behalf of the President that this “equal treatment” policy remains in place and, thus, religious schools, nursing homes, health clinics and the like which qualify for federal disaster aid on the same terms as their secular counterparts will receive such aid.
Union policy director Nathan J. Diament stated: “The Orthodox Jewish community is deeply appreciative of the sensitivity and fairness President Bush, Director Towey and other officials have toward America’s religious non-profits. In situations such as these following the hurricanes, we are not asking for special treatment in rebuilding our community-serving institutions, we are simply asking for fair and equal treatment. While some would deny such fair treatment, we are grateful that the President and his Administration have a principled, constitutional and level-headed approach to such issues which will certainly aid the affected communities with their recovery.”