In a rare show of bipartisan support, the House of Representatives passed by a 354-72 vote a bill that will allow houses of worship damaged during Hurricane Sandy to receive federal assistance. NY1's Michael Scotto filed the following report.
When Hurricane Sandy struck New York, it didn't spare religious institutions.
But as they try to rebuild, and help the community around them, they find themselves ineligible for federal disaster money, a situation Congress is now trying to fix with legislation.
"It basically helps provide funding for houses of worship that have suffered and have been taking care of our constituents in New York," said Rep. Grace Meng, whose district covers parts of Queens.
On Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would add religious institutions to the list of not-for-profits eligible for FEMA grants.
It passed with bipartisan support by a 354 to 72 vote.
Those who voted no cited constitutional concerns related to the separation of church and state, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district covers parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
"This bill would direct federal taxpayer dollars to the reconstruction of houses of worship," Nadler said. "The idea that taxpayer money can be used to build a religious sanctuary or an altar has consistently been held unconstitutional."
Rep. Michael Grimm, whose district covers Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, disagreed.
"It's faith neutral," Grimm said. "It has nothing to do with influence or policy or religion, in and of itself. This really has to do with physical structures, not for profits, just being treated fairly."
Supporters also said that federal money has gone to rebuild religious institutions in the past, including churches damaged after the Oklahoma City bombing.
The bill still needs to make it past the Senate, but Rep. Grimm said that shouldn't be a problem. After all, it got bipartisan support in the House.
U.S. Housing Officials Speed Up Mortgage Applications In Wake Of Sandy
The Federal Housing Administration will be speeding up application approval for some Hurricane Sandy-affected homeowners
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced Wednesday that owners of apartment buildings and multi-family residences in New York and New Jersey will receive priority treatment when applying to FHA-insured mortgages.
This is designed to help them as they seek to refinance their mortgages, fix their damaged homes or build new developments.