Posted by Jessi Turnure
POINSETT COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - A separation of church and state debate is taking place in Washington. The U.S. Senate may consider a bill that would lift FEMA's ban on providing aid to churches affected by natural disasters.
Senator Roy Blunt (R) and Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D) introduced the "Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013" bill last week to the US Senate. In February, the U.S. House of Representatives voted strongly to have FEMA lift the ban.
Senator Blunt says the bill would allow houses of worship to receive federal financial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since they are technically a non-profit organization.
Critics claim the bill violates the separation of church and state. Some told Region 8 that churches should not receive government funding since they are tax exempt.
Supporters argue FEMA is discriminating against houses of worship from relief funds. "Even people who don't go to church, get help from the Church and are a part of the community. And I think the government should continue with the disaster relief that way," Brookland resident Addie Roach said.
And some are stuck in the middle. "If the church is actually really beneficial to the community, the community can help out. But it also takes some pressure off from the government when it does that. But some of those churches are also really struggling in hard-hit areas. So in that case, I would say that the church needs to get some support from FEMA," Jonesboro resident Berl McCluey said.
One local church received just that back in 2011, when a flood devastated the Payneway community. "FEMA really did a great job for us. They came right in and came to our meetings and paid the folks well to put their houses back into place," Corners Chapel Baptist Church pastor Glen Hurst said.
Hurst said if this flood happened today without FEMA, it would be a different story. "Families would just be out an awful lot of money trying to repair their homes because their homes were really damaged greatly."
Hurst said it would be a "disservice to the people and taxpayers" for FEMA to continue its current discrimination against churches for relief funds. "They oughta help us, be prepared to help us when disaster hits. Because we on the front lines want to do what we can to help folks and the funds help us help other folks."
The bill has now been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.