FEMA Assistance Eligibility to Include Churches

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has changed a long-standing policy to now include churches among the types of private nonprofits that can qualify for federal disaster assistance.

This means NALC congregations can seek FEMA funds for building repairs in federally declared disasters. In the past, churches could not qualify if their “primary” purpose is religious activity, such as worship or religious education. That restriction has been eliminated.

A few things to note:

+ Congregations must be covered by a 501(c)(3) ruling such as the NALC’s “umbrella” group ruling in order to qualify for FEMA assistance. NALC congregations are covered by the “umbrella” ruling only if they have applied to be included in it. Congregations can be admitted into that group ruling immediately upon request, but they need to provide certain documentation. Congregations should contact Anne Gleason in the NALC Administrative Office to see if they are included or to request to be added to the list.

+ FEMA distinguishes between critical and noncritical services. For NALC congregations, generally the only way they might qualify as offering critical services is if they operate a parochial school. Such congregations can apply for disaster relief aid from FEMA directly.

+ Congregations which do not offer critical services (as defined by FEMA) can still obtain FEMA disaster assistance, but they must apply for a disaster relief loan from the US Small Business Administration (SBA) first. After the SBA makes a decision on that loan application, then the congregation can apply for disaster assistance from FEMA — either to cover their total need, if their SBA loan application was denied, or to cover any demonstrated need amount in excess of the amount provided by the SBA loan.

Please note that this is a general summary of the recent FEMA action. Individual circumstances may affect a congregation’s eligibility for assistance. More information is available in FEMA’s Public Assistance Program Policy Guide at www.fema.gov. A variety of resources for churches are available online at www.fema.gov/faith-resources.

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