budget battle

ADL calls for increase in homeland security spending following Biden budget proposal

Jewish groups are calling for $360 million in Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding in 2022

Andrew Harnik/AP

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington.

The Anti-Defamation League is calling on Congress to appropriate more than $750 million for programs to combat hate and extremism and improve law enforcement procedures for dealing with hate crimes following the release on Friday of the White House’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal to Congress.

For the second consecutive year, the ADL is requesting that congressional appropriators double funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) to $360 million from $180 million. The NSGP is a Department of Homeland Security-administered program which provides funding for nonprofits, including synagogues, to enhance their security.

“Despite a generous increase in the NSGP program in recent years, the need continues to be greater than the resources provided,” Max Sevilla, ADL’s vice president for government Relations, wrote in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees that was obtained by JI. “At a time of increased vulnerability to threats of hate-motivated violence by domestic extremists, Congress should significantly increase funding for non-profit religious institutions and other non-profit organizations that government and law enforcement authorities objectively determine are at high risk of attack.”

Other organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, are also calling for the increase.

During the appropriations process for 2021, the House voted to increase NSGP funding to $360 million, but the Senate held it at its 2020 level of $90 million. Despite a bipartisan push from some senators for $360 million, appropriators from the two chambers compromised on $180 million.

The Biden administration’s budget request, sent to Congress last week, does not pinpoint a specific request for NSGP, but includes an additional $101 million for domestic terrorism prevention efforts for the Department of Justice, an added $33 million for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and related programs and a total of $131 million for DHS’s efforts to respond to domestic terror. 

The so-called “skinny budget” proposal, which includes a total of $1.5 trillion in spending, is traditionally viewed as a statement of a president’s priorities for the coming fiscal year and can shape the upcoming congressional appropriations process. As the appropriations process proceeds, sweeping changes are still likely, and the ADL indicated it favors further expanding funding on hate and extremism-related issues.

“President Biden’s budget requests for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice show sorely needed progress to combat domestic terrorism — particularly when coupled with other actions being taken,” Sevilla, told JI. “There’s more we’d like to see, but these investments would significantly strengthen our nation’s ability to take on domestic terrorism threats.”

In addition to increased NSGP funding, the ADL’s requests include $1.25 million for the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, $227 million for other grant programs aimed at domestic extremism, $100 million for hate crimes training for local police, an increase of $20 million for domestic extremism research. It also calls on appropriators to support programs to root out extremism in the police and military and efforts to improve hate crime reporting and prevention.

The administration’s budget request also confirmed that it intends to continue to provide aid to Palestinians, including through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, through fiscal year 2022.

David Makovsky, director of the program on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, said that the administration is continuing to signal to the Palestinian Authority that it needs to change its policies on payments to the families of imprisoned terrorists before it can receive aid —  a consequence of restrictions imposed by the Taylor Force Act.

“There’s no direct aid to the PA unless they do the Taylor Force reforms,” Makovsky said. “While we’re hearing a lot of good things behind the scenes, it hasn’t happened yet. And I just hope the Palestinians don’t take the wrong lesson.”

Some congressional Republicans quickly raised concerns that the budget skimps on defense spending — Biden proposed a 1.7% increase in defense spending compared to a 16% boost in non-defense spending. The defense appropriations section of the budget request does not mention threats posed by Iran. Makovsky downplayed the omission.

“In this case, the Iran issue is so front and center… I personally don’t think it’s worth looking at the budget on this one,” Makovsky said. “The administration [is] downplaying the Middle East as a tier-one issue and [making it] more a tier-two issue. It’s clear that the Iran nuclear issue is a tier-one issue. I wouldn’t look at the budget for clues in that regard.”

The budget also includes a 10% increase in funding to $144 million for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights — the division in charge of addressing antisemitism and other forms of bias on campuses.

“A 10% requested increase is not surprising for an incoming Democratic administration,” Ken Marcus, the founder of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the assistant secretary of education for civil rights from 2018 to 2020, told JI. “It doesn’t suggest any policy changes.”

“What matters most for students is not the total amount spent on civil rights enforcement, but whether it is spent wisely. Some administrations have increased enforcement budgets but their programs have been rudderless,” Marcus said. “Other administrations have tighter budgets but better management. And so students fare better.”

Antisemitism issues, Marcus added, “are such a tiny percent of OCR caseload” that the overall funding level matters less than the approach of senior officials within the department.

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