Skip To Content
Fast Forward

Ending Years of Battles, FEMA Agrees To Fund Repairs To Synagogues, Churches

Ever since the Seattle Hebrew Academy was damaged by an earthquake in 2001, Jewish and non-Jewish religious groups have been trying to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant repair funds to houses of worship hit by natural disaster. But internal rules put in place to ensure federal dollars don’t go to religious causes prevented such aid from being delivered to synagogues, churches and other religious institutions.

Now, the battle for funding, which was led by Orthodox groups, has registered a major victory.

FEMA announced Tuesday it is revising its guidelines and will treat houses of worship the same way it treats other nonprofits eligible for federal disaster aid. In practical terms, this means that synagogues and churches hit by this summer’s hurricanes in Texas, Florida or Puerto Rico will be able to apply for FEMA funding after exhausting their own insurance and loans from the Small Business Administration.

“We thank the Trump Administration for righting this long-time wrong,” said Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy. He told the Forward that while there is bipartisan support for revising the rules, “the change of administration obviously helped” because former president Obama objected the move.

Agudath Israel of America also applauded the move, noting that “denying the benefits of a widely available public program that is religion-neutral evinces a form of hostility toward religion that is prohibited by our nation’s laws and values.”

Jewish groups are now working to advance congressional legislation that will set FEMA’s rule change into law.

Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected] or on Twitter @nathanguttman

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.