WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan trio of House members from the Northeast reintroduced legislation that would provide direct relief to synagogues and churches damaged by natural disaster.
U.S. Reps. Grace Meng and Peter King, a Democrat and Republican, respectively, from New York, and Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, this week introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, which would override existing Federal Emergency Management Agency rules that exclude houses of worship from recovery funds.
A similar bill introduced by Meng and Smith in the last Congress, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, passed overwhelmingly in February 2013, but never made it through the Senate.
The Orthodox Union, which lobbied for the bill, praised the lawmakers.
“The recent flooding in Houston reminds us that houses of worship are equally affected by severe flooding and natural disasters,” Nathan Diament, the O.U.’s Washington director, said in a statement Thursday. “When a natural disaster occurs, most often it is the churches and synagogues that offer comfort and a place to gather for members of the community.”
Agudath Israel of America said rebuilding houses of worship was critical for communities in crisis.
“The unique role houses of worship play in the aftermath of a natural disaster cannot be overstated,” said Abba Cohen, the group’s Washington director.
“We are all aware that they provide the community with vital services,” Cohen said. “But more than that they instill the strength, courage and faith necessary to help community members rebuild their lives. Assisting houses of worship to rebuild in turn assists in the government’s ultimate task of getting the community back on its feet.”