by Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Legal language allowing houses of worship to receive federal disaster assistance was advanced out of a House of Representatives committee and was in line for a final vote.
The language was folded into the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which was approved by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Nov. 30.
No vote in the full House was immediately scheduled.
Current federal law prohibits houses of worship from receiving disaster relief for reconstruction from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The provisions originally were included in the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act introduced in May by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, and Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York.
At the time, the two sponsors said the bill calls for houses of worship to receive the same consideration as other nonprofit entities for aid.
Smith welcomed the committee’s action.
“We are thankful that critical language allowing disaster relief for churches, synagogues and mosques was included in the disaster reform bill,” Smith said in a statement.
“They have been centers of service for communities devastated by natural disasters, like after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 or Hurricane Harvey just this year, providing food, supplies, counseling and other aid despite often suffering damage to their own facilities. They should not be shut out of needed relief and should be treated like other nongovernmental organizations,” he said.
The chairmen of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty and Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs supported the measure in a letter to Congress in September. The support came after a series of storms raked Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
A similar bill remains in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Legislation authorizing such aid was first introduced in 2013, months after Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey and parts of New York state and other areas of the Northeast region. The House passed the bill, but it was never taken up in the Senate.