Senate Republicans Unveil Bill Allowing Federal Disaster Aid for Houses of Worship

Beds made ready at shelter for volunteer rescue workers set up at Fairfield Baptist Church student building in Cypress, Texas / Getty
• September 19, 2017 10:52 am


Republican Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Cornyn (Texas), Ted Cruz (Texas), and James Lankford (Okla.) on Monday introduced a bill that would make houses of worship eligible for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance program grants.

The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act wold "help ensure houses of worship are able to continue serving local communities when they need it most," Blunt said in a press release. "It is imperative that they have the resources they need to recover and rebuild. I urge my colleagues to support this bill."

Houses of worship also "provide vital support services during natural disasters, including food, comfort, shelter, and much more," he added.

Blunt and his co-sponsors want to amend the Stafford Act, passed in 1988, which regulates federal disaster relief and emergency assistance and excludes houses of worship from receiving grants that fund repair, reconstruction, or replacement of private nonprofit facilities.

"Nonprofits often play a critical role in filling the gaps in assistance, and houses of worship are no different," Cornyn said in a statement. "Equal treatment in FEMA grant programs for all nonprofits, including religious institutions, must be reached so these groups can continue to help communities in Texas and elsewhere recover."

Lankford referenced the Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran Church ruling from June, which allowed a Lutheran daycare to access state money for rubberized playing surfaces.

"In June, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran that ‘the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.' Likewise, houses of worship that serve our communities and are impacted by natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, should not be disqualified from disaster assistance simply because they are religious in nature," Lankford said. "They should be able to apply for these grants just like other entities."

Cruz said he is "proud" to help introduce the bill, saying, "Religious non-profit organizations, including churches, synagogues, other houses of worship, and community centers should not be excluded from federal disaster assistance just because they are faith-based. This policy is discriminatory and wrong."