House passed bipartisan bill 354-72 eight months ago
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the eve of the first anniversary of the most powerful natural disaster to hit the Northeast, U.S. Cong. Chris Smith told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell the time has come for the U.S. Senate to act on a bipartisan bill passed by the House in February to help put houses of worship—many of which were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy and yet continued to serve ravaged coastal communities—on the same playing field with other non-profit organizations seeking disaster assistance.
Smith who took a lead role in obtaining $60 billion in federal disaster relief funding for Superstorm Sandy victims, wrote a bill, H.R. 592, called the “Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013.” Supported by original cosponsors Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY-06), and Peter King (R-NY-02), and cosponsors Eliot Engel (D-NY-16), Trent Franks (R-AZ-08), Michael Grimm (R-NY-11), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-02), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY-04) and Bill Pascrell Jr.(D-NJ-09), the bill passed 354-72. The legislation stipulates that the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief program, is a general government program under which federal assistance following a natural disaster can be rendered using criteria that are neutral with regard to religion. Congress has previously enacted laws providing financial assistance to religious nonprofit institutions, including houses of worship, on terms equal to other eligible nonprofit organizations. The bill has been stalled in the Senate.
“The House has decisively acted to correct this blatant unfairness. We now need the Senate to act,” said Smith, whose congressional district in Ocean and Monmouth counties were hit hard by Sandy. “This is about those who are being unfairly left out and left behind. It’s about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant. It is unconscionable that foundational pillars of our communities damaged by Sandy—synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and other houses of worship—have been categorically denied access to these otherwise generally-available relief funds. Current FEMA policy is patently unfair, unjustified and discriminatory and may even suggest hostility to religion.”