A rule change by the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week means churches that were damaged by Hurricane Harvey late last year can request federal grants they had previously been barred from receiving.

The new rules were announced Tuesday. Churches that are nonprofit and had already requested help from FEMA can now receive money to repair or replace facilities.

The move comes months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requested the change on behalf of Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey. President Donald Trump also called for the rules to be changed.

Churches had previously been barred from receiving such funds.

Abbott celebrated the decision Wednesday.

“Churches and other houses of worship continue to play a vital role in the ongoing recovery effort, and their ability to receive the same assistance available to other nonprofits should never have been in doubt,” he said. “I thank FEMA and the administration for their commitment to helping Texans and the churches that have helped their communities throughout the recovery and rebuilding process.”

As I reported in September, there are multiple churches in Galveston County that were damaged by Harvey and weren’t able to receive any federal help, except for low-interest loans that would need to be paid back.

Ted Duck, the pastor of the Pine Drive Community Church, said on Wednesday that he didn’t think his church would attempt to get any money from FEMA, even if the church is now eligible for it.

“Our rebuild is on the way from donations and grants and other things,” Duck said. “I would have been hesitant because of bureaucracy of dealing with the government. Our goal was to get our church back as quickly as we could.”

Four and a half months after Harvey, the church’s sanctuary is now “99 percent” repaired, Duck said. The space had been filled with 4 feet of water during Harvey’s flood.

Churches in the county have received aid from non-government sources. Last week, the Galveston County Recovery Fund awarded $100,000 to nine mainland churches.

NEW YEAR, NEW

VOTER ID LAW

With the turn of the calendar, more than two dozen new laws took effect in Texas, including a new version of the state’s voter identification rules.

The new law was approved by the Texas Legislature last year. It changed some aspects of the existing voter ID law that were challenged by voting rights advocates.

The new law allows people who are not able to get photo identification before election day to use alternative forms of IDs, including utility bills, bank statements or paychecks, to vote.

People who use those alternative forms of ID will have to sign a statement swearing they face a “reasonable impediment” in getting a photo ID. People caught lying about that could face up to two years in jail.

While the new law will be in effect for this year’s elections, a federal appeals court is still expected to decide whether the law is discriminatory.

State reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen, and state sens. Larry Taylor and Brandon Creighton all voted to approve the revised law during last year’s regular session.

Early voting starts Feb. 20. The last day to register to vote before the primaries is Feb. 5.

WHEN CONGRESS

COMES BACK

The U.S. Senate retuned to work Tuesday in Washington, D.C. The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to return Jan. 9.

With the holidays, and a mostly easy effort to pass tax cuts behind them, Congressional Republicans say they are digging for some more divisive issues. For the third time in two months, Congress will have to vote to continue funding the government. The past two times the issue has come up, legislators have elected to pass a continuing resolution and punt the issue a few weeks down the road.

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, the Republican chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told BloombergPolitics Congress’ new term will be contentious.

“People are not going to come back singing the ‘Sound of Music’ together,” Meadows said.

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican, is a member of the Freedom Caucus. Weber said voting on funding the government would be a top priority over the coming weeks.

“There will be some angst about Department of Defense spending,” Weber said, adding that he supported funding the military. He said he was also expecting a fight over FISA, the government program that allows secret wiretaps to be used against terrorism suspects.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t like the way it’s done,” Weber said. “I’m strong on individual rights, strong on the Fourth Amendment on keeping the government out of our lives. But there are people in the world that hate us and want to kill us.”

Weber said that while he supported the program for national security reasons, he worried about it being used by elected leaders against their political opponents.

NOTEBOOK

Democratic congressional candidate Adrienne Bell claimed an endorsement from former Texas state senator and failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. Bell is one of two Democrats running for the nomination in Texas Congressional District 14. ... Judge Steven Kirkland, a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, visited with the Galveston County Democratic Party on Tuesday.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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