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This crucial policy change by Trump will benefit churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey

First Baptist Church of Rockport in Rockport, Texas, was damaged after Hurricane Harvey hit on August 26, 2017. Several religious institutions were not allowed to request funds, but the Trump administration has changed FEMA policy to allow those groups to receive funds. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

At least three Texas churches and one Florida synagogue had sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency over a policy that denied disaster aid grants to religious nonprofits, and now the Trump administration has changed FEMA policy to allow those groups to receive funds.

What was the issue?

Several religious institutions were hit during Hurricane Harvey, but were unable to request funds from FEMA due to a rule that's based in the principle of separation of church and state.

What was being done about it?

There is a federal lawsuit pending against FEMA seeking the change the Trump administration just enacted, and a bill to allow religious nonprofits to receive federal funds passed the House but has stalled in the Senate amidst First Amendment challenges, despite some support from both sides of the aisle.

Previously, religious institutions were supported by a network of "faith-based" offices within the federal government established by former President George W. Bush and continued under the Obama administration, according to The Washington Post.

The Trump administration has not filled many positions within that network, however, instead opting to change the FEMA rules.

What happens now?

FEMA will now accept disaster aid applications from religious nonprofits for Hurricane Harvey damages, and continue to do so through Feb. 4.

"We thank the Trump administration for righting this longtime wrong and treating disaster-damaged churches, synagogues and other houses of worship fairly — on the same terms as other nonprofits such as museums, community centers and libraries stricken by natural disaster," said Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy at the Orthodox Union.

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