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  • Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013

    by Representative Lou Barletta

    Posted on 2013-02-13

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    BARLETTA. Madam Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 592) to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to clarify that houses of worship are eligible for certain disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities, and for other purposes.



    The Clerk read the title of the bill.

    The text of the bill is as follows: H.R. 592 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013''.

    SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

    Congress finds the following: (1) Hurricane Sandy inflicted catastrophic damage in the Northeastern United States.

    (2) Houses of worship across the Northeast's many faiths and denominations were among the private nonprofit facilities that sustained damage.

    (3) Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other houses of worship throughout communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and elsewhere play an essential role in the daily lives of the communities.

    (4) The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) public assistance program provides financial grants for the repair of various types of private nonprofit facilities.

    (5) Among the types of nonprofits to which FEMA provides such grants are those in which citizens gather and engage in a variety of educational, enrichment, and social activities. These activities are essential to community building and occur in houses of worship.

    (6) Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.), FEMA's disaster relief program is a general government program under which assistance is provided in the wake of a natural disaster using criteria that are neutral with regard to religion.

    (7) Congress has previously enacted legislation providing financial assistance to religious nonprofit institutions, including houses of worship, on terms equal to other eligible nonprofit institutions.

    (8) Such legislation is consistent with recent precedents of the Supreme Court of the United States and legal opinions issued by the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice.

    SEC. 3. INCLUSION OF HOUSES OF WORSHIP AS PRIVATE NONPROFIT FACILITIES ELIGIBLE FOR DISASTER RELIEF.

    (a) Definition of Private Nonprofit Facility.--Section 102(10)(B) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122(10)(B)) is amended to read as follows: ``(B) Additional facilities.--In addition to the facilities described in subparagraph (A), the term `private nonprofit facility' includes any private nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, community centers, including houses of worship exempt from taxation under section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature), as defined by the President.''.

    (b) Repair, Restoration, and Replacement of Damaged Facilities.--Section 406(a)(3) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5172(a)(3)) is amended by adding at the end the following: ``(C) Houses of worship.--A church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other house of worship, and a private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contributions under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.''.

    (c) Applicability.--This section and the amendments made by this section shall apply to the provision of assistance in response to a major disaster or emergency declared on or after October 28, 2012.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Barletta) and the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Rahall) each will control 20 minutes.

    The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Pennsylvania.

    General Leave Mr. BARLETTA. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on H.R. 592.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Pennsylvania? There was no objection.

    Mr. BARLETTA. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    First, I want to acknowledge the work of the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) for his leadership on this bipartisan legislation.

    Currently, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, also known as the Stafford Act, provides for assistance to nonprofit organizations to rebuild damaged facilities following a declared disaster.

    Like other nonprofit organizations, religious-based organizations have seen significant damage to their facilities from disasters. Just last year, for example, we saw facilities owned by both religious and nonreligious organizations alike damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.

    The administration is interpreting current law to allow some religious nonprofits to receive reconstruction assistance, while others do not. For example, parochial schools and religious hospitals receive funds, while a soup kitchen or a shelter may not, depending on how often it is used for purely religious purposes.

    H.R. 592 clarifies that facilities owned by religious-based organizations qualify for certain types of disaster assistance.

    [[Page H466]] Again, let me thank the gentleman from New Jersey for his efforts on behalf of his constituents to rebuild the storm-ravaged areas of his State.

    I reserve the balance of my time.

    Mr. RAHALL. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    I rise in support of H.R. 592, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013. This bill designates houses of worship as eligible private nonprofit organizations to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to repair or rebuild after a disaster strikes.

    When most people think of disaster damage, they think of the physical damage that is often shown on television, that is, of downed trees, flooded streets and homes, snow piled high, et cetera.

    But for disaster survivors, the impact is often also emotionally traumatic. In some cases, survivors have lost loved ones or all of their worldly possessions. In these trying times, survivors often look to houses of worship for spiritual instruction, guidance, and counseling. The services provided by houses of worship are critical to survivors' full healing and recovery after a disaster.

    During and after disasters, houses of worship are there at a time when the emotional toll inflicted by a disaster is at its worst. While some may have concerns about providing any type of Federal assistance to houses of worship, some types of Federal assistance should be, and are, provided on a neutral basis.

    Funding provided to a broad class of entities for secular purposes such as government-funded and -sponsored police and firefighting assistance and protection and recovery from terrorist activities are such examples.

    Likewise, disaster assistance has been provided to religious institutions in the past. In 1995, after the Oklahoma City bombing, Congress approved funds for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that specifically allowed for the repair and reconstruction of houses of worship damaged by the bombing.

    In addition, under FEMA's current policy, funds are provided to repair or rebuild religiously affiliated private nonprofit organizations such as schools, nursing homes, food shelters, and daycare centers.

    Assisting with recovery from a disaster does not promote or establish religion. There is no intrinsically religious purpose in providing disaster assistance. This provision simply recognizes that houses of worship are one aspect of community recovery.

    This bill helps ensure that our communities fully recover physically, emotionally, and mentally after a disaster. I urge my colleagues to join in supporting this bill.

    I reserve the balance of my time.

    Mr. BARLETTA. Madam Speaker, I wish to yield 7 minutes to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), who is the sponsor of this bill.

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