Boro’s Sandy-hit churches step closer to FEMA aid

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A bill that would allow churches, synagogues, temples and other houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy to receive federal aid to rebuild passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week, although it is still uncertain whether the development will result in help for Queens religious institutions still reeling from the storm.

Houses of worship are not eligible for direct grants from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency due to separation of church and state, although they are eligible for some government loans. Other private nonprofits, such as museums, libraries and schools, are eligible for FEMA aid if they are used for essential activities and are open to the general public.

But a bill co-authored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) would put religious institutions on par with these other nonprofits and remove houses of worship’s barrier to FEMA aid.

Meng said that “3 1/2 months since the storm wreaked havoc on our region, houses of worship — and the millions of Americans who benefit from the social services these institutions provide — continue to be denied the same treatment that is afforded to other nonprofit entities.”

She added, “This is unfair, wrong and must change.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) also authored the bill.

The bill passed the House Feb. 13 by a margin of 353-72.

But the bill still has to clear the U.S. Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama before it can become law, and one Howard Beach pastor said he is not counting on it ever getting that far.

“Any help from the government would be more than appreciated, but good luck,” said the Rev. Anthony Rucando, of Our Lady of Grace Church, saying he questions whether the Senate would pass the bill.

He said the church, at 100-05 159th Ave., took on 6 feet of water during the storm, which jeopardized its boiler, plumbing and electrical systems and likely caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. The church is still closed as it is undergoing repairs, and services are being held in the parish’s nearby school in the meantime.

Rucando said FEMA officials told him the church would probably not receive any aid.

“They said keep on applying anyway,” he said. “It’s an exercise of frustration.”

Meanwhile, the church had been used as a distribution site for clothing, food, water and other emergency supplies after the storm.

“The government relies on parishes and won’t help them,” he said.

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

Updated 12:32 am, February 22, 2013
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Reader feedback

Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
Those interested in how the House voted on this, as compared to the vote on the Sandy problem itself, which took 91 days, may wish to look at the comment I posted on this vote as an addition to my column on Sandy aid.
Kenneth Kowald
Feb. 22, 2013, 11:08 am

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