Churches can now apply retroactively for disaster aid

Churches can now apply retroactively for disaster aid

MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - FEMA will help churches and other houses of worship get back on their feet after disasters. The emergency management agency announced this week that they will provide funding for the repair, reconstruction, or replacement for houses of worship through their public assistance program, which provides grants for nonprofit facilities in the wake of disasters.

Prior to this week's announcement, houses of worship were ineligible for FEMA public assistance programs. Churches and other religious centers impacted by disasters declared on or after Aug. 23, 2017, and for applications of assistance that were pending with FEMA as of Aug. 23, 2017, are now eligible for assistance.

The federal disaster relief agency was sued in September by three Texas churches severely damaged in Hurricane Harvey, over what they called its policy of refusing to provide disaster relief to houses of worship because of their religious status.

Trump had said in a tweet that Texas churches should be able to receive money from FEMA for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. It was not clear whether the three churches provided aid to victims.

FEMA officials say the change was prompted by the Supreme Court's ruling in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, which found that a religious nonprofit organization could not be excluded from a state program simply because it was religious.

On Thursday, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker praised FEMA's decision. Wicker, along with Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri - are co-sponsoring a bill that would makes houses of worship permanently eligible for the disaster-relief program.

"This is an important change because it will ensure houses of worship are eligible for disaster aid on the same terms as other nonprofits," said Wicker in a written statement. "Mississippians know how important churches and their congregations are in supporting disaster response and rebuilding our communities. I look forward to working with Sen. Blunt and others to pass a permanent disaster aid provision for America's religious centers."

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