Churches Ineligible for FEMA Assistance
The first responders to a catastrophic event are frequently church groups. Not only do church groups respond quickly, they usually stay on the scene through the final cleanup. They provide food, clothing, shelter, encouragement, manpower and counsel. Most ask nothing in return.
One such Christian group is the Convoy of Hope based out of Missouri. They provided truckloads of supplies to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo was caught in a photo-op while helping unload the trucks. Another group providing assistance was the SBC Disaster Relief Team who brought volunteers and supplies from all across the country. When large volunteer groups participate in disaster relief, an organized and efficient local coordination effort is required. Much of the coordination work is accomplished by members of churches who lost their own facilities and properties in the disaster.
Daniel Delgado of the Staten Island Chaplaincy said,
“The church is always here and committed to serve all of humanity. These trained Christian chaplains were able to respond before anyone else, because they were there already, and as Christians in ministry they are committed to help people in need every day. The current Hurricane Sandy aid to victims is a reminder that God often chooses to love people through our ministry. We don’t get paid for this; we do this because we love people.”
Since the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been offering grants and other types of aid to nonprofits such as museums, hospitals and libraries. Churches are not on the list of non-profits covered by FEMA funding. Prior to leaving office, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman introduced an amendment to the multibillion-dollar Hurricane Sandy recovery appropriations bill that would place houses of worship on the list of qualified organizations. The amendment did not make it to the floor because of an unrelated bipartisan deal designed to ease the bill’s passage locked it out of consideration.
Dena Sher who is legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union said,
“To rebuild houses of worship is a form of compelled support for religion, which is exactly what the First Amendment is designed to protect against. We understand and identify with the serious difficulties everyone is facing, but we can’t let this misfortune be used as a premise to erode these bedrock principles.”
Approaching the issue from a different perspective City Council Speaker Christine Quinn of Queens wrote,
“Many of the churches, synagogues and mosques that were damaged by the hurricane are now facing great difficulty reopening their doors. Recovery from a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy isn’t a matter of state sponsoring religion. It’s a matter of helping those in need after one of the worst natural disasters our country has ever seen.”
About 40 synagogues planned to submit applications for aid to FEMA to test the policy. Some Christian churches also announced intentions to join them. There are churches who have received assistance, but for ministries such as homeless shelters and food pantries.