On January 3, 2018, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, welcomed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issuing new policy guidance ending its policy of discrimination against disaster-damaged synagogues, churches and other houses of worship seeking FEMA assistance.
The change, included in the federal agency’s latest policy guide released on January 2, comes after more than a decade of advocacy on this issue by the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center and coalition partners. The guidance reverses FEMA’s discriminatory policy of excluding houses of worship from eligibility for federal financial aid following natural disasters.
The revision states that, “private nonprofit houses of worship will not be singled out for disfavored treatment” and applies to applications for assistance pending before FEMA as of August 23 and unresolved as of January 1, 2018.
OU Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament, who has waged a long fight to change the policy, stated:
“We at the Orthodox Union have been working for more than 15 years to have this policy changed. We thank the Trump Administration for righting this long-time wrong and treating disaster- damaged churches, synagogues and other houses of worship fairly – on the same terms as other nonprofits such as museums, community centers and libraries stricken by natural disasters. We also look forward to the U.S. Senate swiftly approving the bipartisan legislation, passed by the House of Representatives last month, that will codify this change in our federal laws.”
OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane stated, “This critical modification will go a long way toward helping our communities recover from the devastation wrought by recent and future natural disasters. Our synagogues are on the front lines of relief after hurricanes and other natural disasters, and they deserve to be treated fairly.”