Houses of worship fight damage without FEMA

St. Virgilius in Broad Channel had a business card for a contracting company resting on its door bell box Monday. Photo by Karen Frantz
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Lisa Mason, an assistant director and assistant teacher at the Howard Beach Judea Center Preschool, said her facility sustained massive damage during Hurricane Sandy.

Three feet of water filled the school, destroying hundreds of chairs, almost two dozen banquet tables, the hot water heater, carpeting and kitchen appliances.

But because the school is part of the Howard Beach Judea Center, it was denied a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to help rebuild.

“We have not received any aid because we’re a house of worship,” Mason said.

Churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship are not eligible to receive grants from FEMA under the name of separation of church and state, although other private nonprofits such as zoos, museums, libraries and schools are eligible.

That leaves many facilities like the Howard Beach preschool, at 162-05 90th St., that suffered devastating losses during the storm in a difficult situation.

“We’re in the red still,” Mason said, saying that though the school is open and has received some private donations, it went into debt to replace just a fraction of what it lost and there are more repairs yet to be done.

Some elected officials are trying to lift the barrier to FEMA aid for houses of worship. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) tried to attach an amendment to the Hurricane Sandy relief package that would allow houses of worship to receive FEMA grants, although it ultimately was not attached to the bill. “Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc upon our region and severely damaged many houses of worship that are now in desperate need of repair or are struggling to reopen,” said Meng.

A representative for Meng said she is exploring other legislation and will be reaching out to FEMA as well.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) also said he thought providing FEMA aid for houses of worship was important. He pointed out that many churches, temples and other religious buildings often provide space for civic gatherings or purposes that are non-religious in nature.

“I feel very comfortable using these federal dollars for these religious communities because it benefits the entire community,” he said.

But Mason said even if the rules were amended so houses of worship could receive FEMA aid, it might not make a difference for her preschool, which she fears could be passed over for help because it is up and running and therefore in better shape than several other area houses of worship.

“Just because it gets passed doesn’t mean it’s going to help us,” she said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Posted 3:50 pm, January 17, 2013
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Reader feedback

Rick says:
Makes sense. The houses of worship aren't paying taxes, which funds agencies such as FEMA.
Jan. 19, 2013, 1:32 pm
Mr . Mike from Elkridge, MD says:
So churches shout out separation of church and state when a federal law is passed for all women to have access to birth control, but want federal money to maintain their houses of worship? I don't want my tax dollars going to any church.
Jan. 19, 2013, 1:34 pm

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