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Bill would allow religious institutions damaged by Sandy access to FEMA funding

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Albany/HV: Bill would allow religious institutions damaged by Sandy access to FEMA funding
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In a rare showing of bipartisanship in Washington, a bill that would allow religious institutions damaged by Hurricane Sandy to access FEMA money breezed through the House of Representatives. YNN's Washington, D.C. bureau reporter Michael Scotto has the story.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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,” Queens Representative Grace Meng said.

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, 354 to 72.

Those who voted no cited constitutional concerns related to the separation of church and state, including Congressman Jerry Nadler who said, “This bill would direct federal taxpayer dollars to the reconstruction of houses of worship. The idea that taxpayer money can be used to build a religious sanctuary or an altar has consistently been held unconstitutional.”

Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm 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 just being treated fairly.”

Supporters also say 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 Congressman Grimm says that shouldn't be a problem. After all, it got bipartisan support in the House.

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