FEMA allows churches to apply for disaster assistance retroactively

© Reuters. Submerged freeways from the effects of Hurricane Harvey are seen during widespread flooding in Houston

© Reuters. Highways submerged by the effects of Hurricane Harvey are seen during widespread flooding in Houston

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday that churches may apply for assistance related to disasters declared after August 23, 2017, following pressure from President Donald Trump and a lawsuit from the Texas churches.

The federal disaster relief agency was sued in September by three Texas churches badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey, calling it their policy of refusing to provide relief to places of worship because of their religious status.

Trump had said in a tweet that Texas churches should be able to receive money from FEMA to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. It was unclear whether the three churches provided assistance to the victims.

The churches that sued are the Rockport First Assembly of God in Rockport, which lost its roof and steeple and suffered other structural damage, and the Harvest Family Church in Cypress and the Hi-Way Tabernacle in Cleveland, which were flooded.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Houston, the churches said they would like to apply for help but it would be “useless” because FEMA’s public assistance program “categorically” excluded their claims, violating their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.

They said that FEMA’s ban on providing aid where at least half of a building‘s space is used for religious purposes, a policy that was also enforced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, contradicted a recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that facilitated access to religious groups. public aid.

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