Governor Abbott And AG Paxton Urge President Trump To Authorize FEMA Disaster Assistance For Houses Of Worship In Wake Of Hurricane Harvey

September 20, 2017 | Austin, Texas | Press Release

Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton today sent a letter to President Trump, urging him to ensure that churches and other religious organizations are treated equally with other nonprofits and not excluded from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide, which was revised during the Obama-era, offers assistance to private non-profit organizations, including zoos, performing arts centers and museums, but it excludes facilities established or primarily used for religious activities. President Trump recently said that churches assisting hurricane victims in Texas should be entitled to FEMA funds. And under federal law, he has the authority to include churches and other houses of worship in FEMA’s definition of a “private nonprofit facility.”

“Churches have opened their doors to feed, shelter, comfort, and rebuild their communities – even hosting FEMA operations in the process – but this policy has made those very same churches ineligible for assistance because their primary use is, by nature, religious,” Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton wrote. “The policy of denying relief funds for churches discriminates on the grounds of religion and is nothing more than the relic of an administration that preferred rewriting laws to faithfully executing them.”

In their letter to the president, Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton highlighted a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer) protecting the right of religious organizations to participate in generally available programs on equal footing with secular organizations, including funding.

“Excluding churches and houses of worship from FEMA disaster relief not only makes for bad policy, as you acknowledge, but also risks the federal government violating the constitutional rights of those who are playing an instrumental role in getting Texans back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey,” Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton concluded. “In light of this, we urge you, Mr. President, to move with alacrity and define ‘private nonprofit facility’ in FEMA’s Policy Guide to include churches and other faith-based organizations.”

Churches and other houses of worship are vital to the response and recovery efforts in the Texas Gulf Coast, and it’s been reported that approximately 80 percent of all recovery happens because of mostly faith-based non-profits. Many of these churches have suffered damage from Hurricane Harvey and sought FEMA assistance so they could continue to serve their communities.

View a copy of the letter.