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FEMA sets Feb. 4 cutoff for Harvey aid applications

WASHINGTON (BP) — Texas churches wishing to apply for federal disaster aid funds following Hurricane Harvey have until Feb. 4 to do so, according to a notice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Though such funds long had not been available to churches and other houses of worship, FEMA announced a policy change Jan. 2 amid the pressure of a lawsuit by three small Texas churches and urging from both President Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Now houses of worship damaged by disasters on or after Aug. 23, 2017, are eligible to receive the type of aid available to other nonprofit organizations. Also eligible to receive FEMA aid are congregations with applications pending as of that date that have not yet been resolved.

A 30-day application window for churches damaged by Harvey opened Jan. 5, FEMA announced.

“Under FEMA’s Public Assistance program, eligible applicants are reimbursed for disaster-related costs for emergency response, debris removal and permanent work such as repairs or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities,” FEMA representative Kevin Hannes wrote in a Jan. 5 letter to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

To be eligible for the federal disaster funds — available under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act — a house of worship first must apply for a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. FEMA assistance is then limited to repair or replacement costs not covered by an SBA loan.

When FEMA first announced its policy change, Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, told Baptist Press he welcomed the news but urged churches to “be cautious of government entanglements that can accompany financial help.”

Application forms for FEMA Public Assistance are available online through the Texas Department of Public Safety website.