WASHINGTON, DC – The Trump Administration has revised the language in FEMA Relief Fund rules to include local churches. The action follows a lawsuit filed by three Texas churches damaged during Hurricane Harvey.
The three Houston-area churches filed a complaint in federal court after FEMA excluded their claims for aid by current ruling language that excluded relief for entities where at least half of the building is used for religious purposes. The Rockport First Assembly of God lost its roof and steeple. The Hi-Way Tabernacle in Cleveland and the Harvest Family Church in Cypress suffered flood damage.
The churches filed suit directly with the court rather than filing a claim with FEMA, saying the agency’s public assistance program language “categorically” excluded their eligibility.
FEMA limits financial aid to private nonprofits (PMP) to costs that cannot otherwise be covered by grants and loans available from the Small Business Administration.
The revised language no longer excludes “houses of worship from eligibility for FEMA aid by the religious character or primarily religious use of the facility.”
The decision rated a tweet from President Trump. “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.”
The suit met with in-court resistance from representatives of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League, and the ACLU, stating that “Far from compelling FEMA to provide grants to repair places of worship, the Constitution prohibits it from doing so.”
The Insurance Journal, FEMA Declares Church Centers Now Eligible for U.S. Disaster Aid
The Nonprofit Quarterly, FEMA Expands Direct Access to Disaster Funds for Churches
The Daily Beast, FEMA Expands Church Access to Disaster Funds