Texas Churches Sue FEMA for Access to Disaster Relief Funds

Volunteer Elizabeth Hill, 8, plays with evacuee Skyler Smith, 7, at a shelter in a church in west Houston on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. Three churches sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency for access to disaster relief funds routinely provided to nonprofit organizations such as zoos and museums, but denied to religious groups. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Three Texas churches devastated by Hurricane Harvey floodwaters sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency for access to disaster relief funds routinely provided to non-profit organizations such as zoos and museums, but denied to religious groups.

One of the churches suing in Houston federal court is being used as a disaster relief shelter for storm victims yet is ineligible to apply for FEMA funds to repair damage caused by three feet of flood waters.

“The churches are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking a fair shake,” Diana Verm, a lawyer for the two churches and one synagogue suing FEMA, said in court papers filed Monday. “Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn’t cherry-pick who it helps,” she added in an emailed statement Tuesday.

FEMA routinely uses and praises houses of worship for providing shelter, meals, supplies and comfort to their neighbors and communities during disasters, Verm said. A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in an unrelated case earlier this year said the federal government can’t discriminate against a church, synagogue or mosque “simply because of its status as a place of religious teaching and worship.”

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SOURCE: Bloomberg
Laurel Brubaker Calkins

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