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Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleagues of the necessity of an absolute firewall around the protection of the First Amendment. And I do believe that Members understand the sacred aspect of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.

But I rise today to support H.R. 592, and I support it so that it can be considered by the Senate and that we can reinforce the distinctive separation between church and state. But coming from Hurricane, if you will, Valley, coming from the gulf, living through Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina, the pain I saw that places of worship, of any kind, were devastated, the members are taxpayers. And for all that we could do, we could never get those places to be restored.

The small business loan program does not work because many of our churches are just that, they give their money to the poor. They are not rich institutions. That is the bulk of places of worship no matter what your faith may happen to be.

And as the Federal Emergency Management Agency does, in fact, support nonprofits, I would argue to the authors of this bill whether or not they would be open to ensure that the funding is specifically for the devastation that occurred on that specific natural disaster, that there was a time limit, that there were specific items of which the church--or the place of worship, let me be general--could utilize it for.

I come to the floor because I have lived the pain of pastors, I have lived the pain of rabbis, imams and priests who have suffered the devastation of their faith. It is not a fault of their own.

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. I thank the distinguished gentleman for his kindness. Let me thank the ranking member very much.

I think we can make this work. And I also want to just mention an anecdotal story: when we had Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the places of worship opened their doors to the surviving members out of Louisiana or survivors out of Louisiana and just opened their doors.

They had leaking roofs. They were damaged. But in Texas, they opened their doors. We took a quarter of a million, and they opened their doors. They put cots up, and they fed them. All of those items could not be reimbursed.

We saw places of worship--no matter what their faith--literally shut down. They just could not survive because they had given their all with their leaking roof, their non-resources to give food in a place that these people could stay.

So in this instance, having walked through a number of disasters, from the tragedy of 9/11, a heinous manmade disaster, to every hurricane that we've had, including the tsunami way across the ocean, to see what a natural disaster can do and to preclude these places who can legitimately document--I would even suggest that it be on a reimbursement form. But we can work together so that we can document that what these dollars are used for will be used for the restoration of the physical plant that houses or allows those who are Americans, who pay taxes, and are contributing to this Nation.

I ask my colleagues to consider H.R. 592 and how we can make it better so that it can go forward and help the places of worship.

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