The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) today expressed its appreciation to United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Roy Blunt (MO) for their introduction of a bipartisan bill this week—the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013—that would ensure that houses of worship devastated by recent and future disasters are eligible for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused widespread destruction throughout New York and New Jersey. Alongside homes and commercial buildings, nearly 200 synagogues, churches and other houses of worship were damaged.
Under the federal law and current FEMA regulations, various types of “private nonprofit facilities” are eligible for federal aid to repair their disaster-damaged facilities. Eligible facilities include museums, libraries, community centers, performing arts facilities, homeless shelters and senior centers, among others. While federal law does not explicitly exclude or include houses of worship, FEMA’s regulations do exclude houses of worship from full and equal eligibility to similarly situated nonprofit organizations.
“When a natural disaster occurs, most often it is the churches and synagogues that offer comfort and a place to gather for members of the community. After Sandy, churches and synagogues throughout New York and New Jersey turned into community centers and distribution centers, offering heat, food and other forms of aid. It is ironic that these institutions that serve others in times of need are the ones refused aid by FEMA,” said Nathan Diament, OU executive director for public policy. “We are very grateful to Senators Gillibrand and Blunt for their introducing the Senate nonprofit FEMA fairness legislation. We commend them for their commitment to serving those impacted by Hurricane Sandy and joining us in the fight to ensure that the churches and synagogues are not left behind.”
The Senate bill follows the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly in February.
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The Orthodox Union is the nation's largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization; the OU Advocacy Center, formerly the Institute for Public Affairs, is the non-partisan public policy arm of the OU and leads its advocacy efforts in Washington, DC and state capitals.
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