A tweet by President Trump about hurricanes Irma and Harvey is renewing hope among Jewish groups that have long advocated for emergency assistance to synagogues.
“Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others),” Trump said on Twitter, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Attempts in the past two Congresses to extend FEMA protections to houses of worship had broad bipartisan support, but were stymied by the Obama administration’s concerns over church-state separation.
Jewish groups advocating for the change welcomed the change in tone.
Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, which has led advocacy for the policy change, said that Trump needed only to order the change; there was no statute barring emergency funds from going to houses of worship. Still, he said, including houses of worship as beneficiaries of FEMA assistance should be written into law.
“There’s a little bit of distance between the president tweeting and actual policy,” he told JTA on Monday. “We also want it codified in legislation.”
FEMA currently allows nonprofits such as community centers and zoos to apply for the funds.