Amid a wave of calls for increased security funding for the Jewish community, the federal government’s main grant program to help protect houses of worship and other at-risk non-profits was granted formal authorization – some 25 years after its creation.
Since 2005, the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) has made funds available of up to $100,000 to institutions that meet the criteria set by the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that awards the grants. In those 15 years since the NSGP’s founding, Congress has approved millions of dollars in funding ¬ this year at an unprecedented level of $90 million. Yet, the program was always dealt with on a year-to-year basis, without formal authorization.
At the end of 2019 a bipartisan bill granted NSGP its official designation, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump last Friday.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director for Agudath Israel of America, said that the designation is a welcome fortification of what he sees as a highly valuable program.
“We welcome the president’s signature on this bill, which authorizes a very vital federal security grant program,” he told Hamodia. “This is legislation we have long sought, which we believe will strengthen the program and make it a more steady and dependable resource for at-risk nonprofits.”
The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and in the House of Representatives by Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.), all of whom sit on Homeland Security committees. The new law grants authorization for the next five years, and calls for the NSGP to be funded at $75 million a year. Actual allocations can vary with each annual budget cycle; 2020 has already been funded at $15 million more than the designated level.
The grant program was first enacted largely at the urging of Jewish lobbying groups as part of a national post-9/11 response to heightened domestic terror threats. While Congress agreed to fund the grants, opposition to the NSGP by several liberal Jewish groups and left-leaning congressmen, who felt the program constituted inappropriate funding of religious institutions by government, held back the program’s authorization. As recently as 2018, after the Pittsburgh shooting, the ADL reiterated its opposition to the program.
Lacking official status, NSGP had to be lobbied for anew each year. Authorization gives it a far more permanent place in Congress’ budget.
The allocation was originally set at $25 million, but in subsequent years it was gradually cut. Over the past decade, however, allocations have steadily increased. In 2018, amid rising anti-Semitic threats, the level of funding was raised to $60 million, and this past year it was set at $90 million.
In the wake of attacks in Jersey City and Monsey, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed that funding be quadrupled, to $360 million a year. His proposal has already picked up several key supporters, including New Jersey Senators, Democrats Robert Menendez and Cory Booker.
Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament, who serves on the Homeland Security Department’s Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities, welcomed the bill’s signing.
“Jews today are facing violence on a scale we have never witnessed before in America, and the perpetrators must be stopped,” he said. “The president’s actions demonstrate his understanding of these threats and the need to protect not only Jews, but all people of faith.”