on the hill

JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut previews Senate Homeland Security Committee testimony

Fingerhut is set to testify at a hearing on domestic terrorism on Tuesday


CEO and President of the Jewish Federations of North America and former Congressman Eric Fingerhut

The rising threats to religious and faith-based organizations will be front and center this week for one Senate committee, Eric Fingerhut, the Jewish Federations of North America president and CEO, told Jewish Insider ahead of a scheduled hearing on domestic terrorism before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

In an interview with JI on Monday, Fingerhut — who is testifying along with Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Human Rights, John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Paul Goldenberg, chairman and president of Cardinal Point Strategies, and Seth Jones, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies — told JI that he plans to focus on the funding shortfall for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). Fewer than half of this year’s applications for the program, which provides funding to nonprofits to upgrade their security infrastructure, were approved.

“It seems very clear to us that the rising documented threats — documented by the federal government and by the experts in the federal government — combined with the unmet need call for a significant increase in the [NSGP],” Fingerhut explained.

Fingerhut added that he’s “enormously appreciative” of the work the committee and some of its members have done to support the NSGP in the past, adding that the coronavirus pandemic provided “the most dramatic example you could possibly have” of the critical role that nonprofit organizations play in supporting national social welfare, and the need to better protect them.

“In our country, historically, the delivery of a safety net has been a partnership between government and the nonprofit sector,” Fingerhut said. “And should that come under security threat, it would be really debilitating to the country.”

Fingerhut plans to argue that the nonprofit sector should be designated, by statute, as a critical infrastructure sector — like the communications, food and agriculture, healthcare and energy sectors. Such a designation would require the federal government to develop a comprehensive plan to protect such institutions.

“That designation as critical infrastructure is really an important next step,” Fingerhut said. 

He said he’ll also recommend to the committee that nonprofits be given greater access to protective security advisors and cybersecurity advisors through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Such advisors assess vulnerabilities, provide training and serve as a link between critical infrastructure facilities and the federal government.

“We think a more formal way of interacting between [the nonprofit] sector and Homeland Security would be helpful,” Fingerhut explained.

The JFNA executive and former Ohio congressman will also express support for the Pray Safe Act, which the committee advanced to full Senate consideration in July. That bill would establish a national database on security best practices for houses or worship and faith-based organizations and grant programs available to them.

Fingerhut said that JFNA’s Live Secure campaign has been pursuing a similar goal of distributing information about federal security grants available to them, but “we also could use additional help from the government in that regard.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt will be testifying to the committee at a second domestic terrorism hearing on Thursday.

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