Congress Passes Bill that Could Provide Relief for Synagogues Hit by Natural Disasters

Flood damage from Hurricane Harvey at United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) of Houston. Credit: Robert Levy via Facebook.

Legislation to grant houses of worship access to federal disaster relief funding passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure would provide significant assistance to synagogues in areas affected by natural disasters.

The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act was originally introduced in 2013 by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) after Superstorm Sandy struck New York and New Jersey — including some of the country’s largest Jewish communities — in 2012.

“After Superstorm Sandy, I and others saw how leaders and volunteers at churches, synagogues, and other religious centers help feed, clothe, and shelter tens of thousands of victims — yet they were left out and left behind when it came to repairs of their own facilities,” said Smith, adding that the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s policy to exclude religious organizations from disaster relief funding is “unfair, unjustified, and discriminatory.”

At the time of its introduction in 2013, the bill passed the House with overwhelming support, but was ultimately delayed in the Senate. Smith reintroduced the bill in 2015 and again this year following a devastating hurricane season that inflicted severe damage along the Gulf Coast.

The renewed bill, which is now pending in the Senate, comes after Hurricane Harvey in late August severely damaged the infrastructure of Houston’s Jewish community, including three of the area’s largest synagogues and a JCC.


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