Cong. Smith’s Fairness Act Will Help Churches!

Sep 20th, 2017 | By | Category: Featured

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Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ).

Yesterday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the introduction of a Senate companion bill to his bipartisan “Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017” (H.R. 2405). The legislation will put houses of worship that have been shut out of receiving federal assistance after a disaster on an even playing field with other private non-profit organizations seeking disaster assistance.

The Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and James Lankford (R-OK). When the legislation was first introduced in 2013—just months after Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey, New York and other Northeast regions—the House passed it in a decisive 354-72 vote. Unfortunately for these victims, at the time the Senate refused to take the bill up for a vote.

“Following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the flooding in Louisiana last year and the indiscriminate desolation by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma we have seen, time and time again, that faith communities are among the first to open their doors to the needs of their communities, even as they themselves suffered incredible destruction,” said Smith, who introduced the 2017 version of this legislation in May of this year. “They deserve equal treatment when it comes to federal aid.”

President Trump has indicated support for houses of worship, ensuring that they are not excluded from federal support. On September 8th the President tweeted: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”

“The discriminatory policy of excluding houses of worship from disaster relief is not prescribed in any law,” said Smith. “The previous Administration simply refused to help them. We have an opportunity to change this through future federal disaster assistance programs.”

“I would like to thank my colleagues in the Senate for working to help ensure quick passage of this legislation.”

There are several noteworthy precedents for federal aid to damaged houses of worship. For example, after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Congress overruled FEMA’s refusal to provide assistance to the damaged churches and in 2002, after an earthquake in Seattle, the Justice Department intervened to order FEMA to assist religious organizations damaged by the quake. Currently, other nonprofits that provide educational, enrichment, social and community building activities—like houses of worship do—are already eligible for FEMA grant funds.

 


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