JANUARY 3, 2018: In a reversal of earlier rulings, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced on Tuesday (January 2, 2018) that houses of worship will be eligible to receive federal disaster relief funds that were previously limited to private non-profit organizations with no religious affiliation.
FEMA Administrator Brock Long wrote to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, stating that “Effective for any major disaster declared on or after August 23, 2017, private nonprofit organizations operating a house of worship are now eligible under the FEMA Public Assistance Program.”
Three Texas churches had filed a lawsuit against FEMA in September 2017 after being denied federal relief funds in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, arguing that their eligibility for disaster relief could not be denied solely because of their religious status due to the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Hurricane Harvey dealt tens of billions of dollars of damage to Texas and Florida in late August 2017.
As the Catholic News Agency reports, “Now, FEMA will permit houses of worship damaged during the hurricane to retroactively apply for aid, and any other church damaged in a storm in the future will also be eligible for these funds.”
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