The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that private nonprofit houses of worship are now eligible for disaster assistance as community centers, without regard to their secular or religious nature.

The change is effective for disasters declared on or after August 23, 2017 and for applications pending with FEMA as of August 23, 2017.

Churches have traditionally been excluded from eligibility for FEMA aid.

Several Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey sued FEMA, accusing the agency of religious discrimination.

FEMA provides financial assistance to certain private nonprofit (PNP) organizations for the repair or replacement of facilities damaged or destroyed by a major disaster. FEMA’s changes now make houses of worship owned or operated by PNP organizations eligible applicants for this financial assistance if their facilities suffered damage from a major disaster.

As with other what FEMA considers “non-critical PNPs,” financial assistance for the repair or replacement of a house of worship facility is limited to costs that a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will not cover. PNP houses of worship must apply to the SBA for a loan. FEMA will provide financial assistance if the PNP house of worship is denied a loan or if the loan authorized is insufficient to cover repair costs.

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