Advocates for the Jewish community welcomed a $7 million increase in federal funding for security at non-profit institutions that was presented as part of Congress’s 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill for 2016. The raise was part of a bipartisan effort amidst widely recognized concerns of terror threats, particularly to Jewish institutions.
The increase was called for in a letter penned by Rep. Peter King (NY-R) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (NJ-D) and signed by over 35 other representatives, mostly from the tristate area. The congressmen requested an allotment of $25 million, calling the program “vital to the security of vulnerable non-profit facilities.”
Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union joined with the United Federations of North America in promoting the raise.
“The Jewish community has a particular stake in this issue as it is no secret that we are a vulnerable and high-risk target,”said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s vice president for federal affairs and Washington director.
The grant program was originally created in 2005, largely at the urging of Jewish lobby groups, as part of a national post-9/11 response to heightened domestic terror threats. The allocation was then set at $25 million, but was gradually decreased to $10 million. Last year it was increased to $13 million. The present allocation of $20 million is the largest since 2007. To date, the grants have delivered more than $120 million to non-profit agencies, many of them of Jewish affiliation.
“The disturbing rise in threats and attacks on community institutions has made the Jewish community even more conscious of the need to keep our schools and synagogues safe,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for Public Policy for the Orthodox Union.
In addition to the additional funds, the spending bill also requires the Department of Homeland Security, who oversees distribution, to consider institutions outside of the presently designated “Eligible Urban Areas.” Both the Agudah and OU said that this change was a much-needed step, as many vulnerable shuls and yeshivos outside of city centers had been denied funding based on the original qualifications.
Rob Goldberg, senior director of Legislative Affairs at The Jewish Federations of North America, noted the statistical evidence backing up the need for increased protection.
“In recent years, New York City and Northern New Jersey have experienced some of the highest incidents of anti-Semitism and threats to the Jewish community from violent, homegrown extremists.”
Funds can be used for a variety of security costs, including cameras, concrete barriers and reinforced doors.
Although the allotment fell $5 million short of their original request, the two chief congressional advocates welcomed the move in a joint statement. Rep. Pascrell, an original member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, focused on the essential importance of the funds to help ensure that “no one should feel unsafe in a place of worship or a community center.”
Rep. King said that the funding should help those “organizations who are at risk of a potential terrorist attack [and] need to have the necessary equipment and security measures in place.”
A vote on the massive bill, a result of intense negotiations between leaders in both parties, is expected this week. It is anticipated to pass easily and be signed by the president shortly thereafter.