Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, was the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, along with New York Reps. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Peter King (R-Seaford) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), who represents much of the Five Towns. “Our houses of worship and other religious institutions were hurt just as bad and responded just as vigorously as any nonprofits hit by Sandy,” McCarthy said, “and this legislation clears the red tape and bureaucracy so that our neighbors can get the help that they need.”
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, in Inwood, and St. Joseph’s R.C. Church, in Hewlett, both served as assistance centers for hundreds of families in the aftermath of the storm, and continue to provide support, according to the Rev. Eric Fasano of Our Lady of Good Counsel, which works closely with St. Joseph’s. FEMA trucks were housed at the Inwood church and church volunteers distributed food and donated clothing, blankets, baby and cleaning supplies as well as money for emergency heating and housing, Fasano said.
“The initiative to include churches and houses of worship eligible for disaster relief can only serve to benefit the larger community,” he said. “Far from being a government endorsement of religion, it is in fact a sound investment. Houses of worship know the needs of the local community, and often respond to them far more efficiently and cost-effectively than government agencies.”
FEMA officials would not comment on the pending legislation, but agency attorneys objected to the bill, noting in a memorandum that it signifies “an enormous departure” from present law. The new law would, they said, require FEMA to make a distinction between
“worship space,” for which federal funds are not provided, and space owned and used by religious organizations for schools or a community center which can receive federal money.