Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY-16) co-sponsored legislation to provide federal disaster relief to places of worship which suffered from the devastation wrought by Superstorm Sandy in October. The bipartisan bill overwhelmingly passed the full House today and awaits action by the Senate.
“When the storm struck the East Coast and flooded countless areas of New York, New Jersey, New England and other coastal cities and towns, it was not choosing its targets. The flood waters went into private homes, government buildings, small businesses, large corporations, non-for-profit locations and houses of worship. While I don’t believe the federal government should be subsidizing churches, mosques, temples and synagogues, I do believe we should not leave anyone behind when they are suffering. The damages inflicted were just as severe for religious institutions as they were for the hardware store down the street. It is unfair to single them out from badly-needed assistance,” said Rep. Engel.
The legislation requires the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief program, to treat houses of worship the same as other eligible non-profit organizations when it comes to disaster relief. Religious organizations were out in great numbers to assist residents and businesses who were hit the hardest during the storm, while their own structures faced similar damage.
“Religious organizations are a mainstay of our communities and deserve our help in recovering from Superstorm Sandy. In the past, religious non-profit institutions have received aid and there is no reason to exclude them now when the damages were so far-reaching. It happened after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 2002 Seattle earthquake, and it should now be done for Sandy victims. The government has also provided funds for programs operated out of religious organizations – such as soup kitchens and food banks – and without a fully-functional structure to host them, these programs will not be able to continue. The legislation is based on common sense, and I call on the Senate to pass it as soon as possible,” added Rep. Engel.
The bill was co-written by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ-04) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY-06), and co-sponsored by Rep. Engel, Rep. Peter King (R-NY-02), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-08), Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY-11), Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-02), Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY-04) and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ-09).