on the hill

Ahead of 2022 NSGP deadline, DHS increasing outreach to ‘underserved’ communities

Senators also questioned how FEMA can better support small congregations and nonprofits that may struggle to submit applications

Justin Merriman/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Police vehicles remain posted in front of the Tree of Life Synagogue on Monday, October 29, 2018, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting on Saturday morning.

With the application period for the 2022 Nonprofit Security Grant Program expected to begin in the coming weeks, Department of Homeland Security officials told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee on Wednesday that they’re working to conduct greater outreach to “underserved and marginalized communities” that may lack awareness about the program.

“We know that there are parts of the country, there are particular communities that have not accessed this program, our analysis has shown that is not simply a matter of them being non-competitive, it’s that they’re not competing at all,” Christopher Logan, deputy assistant administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Grant Programs Directorate, said. “And we need to solve that problem.”

FEMA officials are conducting outreach to such communities, providing them with both information and technical assistance for the upcoming application cycle. The agency is also working to decrease obstacles to participation and analyzing “where the grant program has not historically been awarded,” Logan said. The Jewish community has historically received the majority of NSGP grants.

The 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, passed last week, boosted NSGP funding to $250 million from $180 million for 2021.

Several senators emphasized during the hearing that smaller congregations and nonprofits may struggle to submit applications due to limited staffing and a lack of expertise navigating the federal grant process.

Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Charlie Cytron Walker, whose synagogue received a grant,  has emphasized this point at several recent congressional hearings.

“Filling out extensive forms and finding the information that they require is typically more than [small congregations] can handle,” Cytron Walker said in February. “Many small congregations don’t even apply because they see the paperwork requirements and they admit defeat.”

Prompted by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Logan told senators that the department is examining whether it is necessary to open a dedicated NSGP office within FEMA.

The senators’ questioning indicates that there could be support for legislation similar to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act, recently introduced in the House, which would, among other provisions, create a standalone NSGP office at FEMA. Such a proposal is backed by Jewish groups including The Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union.

Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) both highlighted the Pray Safe Act, legislation they introduced in 2021 that would create a centralized database of information for nonprofits to access information about federal programs and resources like NSGP.

“Many religious communities still don’t know how to access these trainings for grants available through the NSGP,” Portman explained. “We need to do better.”

Marcus Coleman, director of the DHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told the panel he believes this legislation could be a promising resource, citing conversations with community leaders who have had difficulty accessing federal information. He said his division and the White House are already examining a similar approach.

Rosen pressed the officials on what she described as shortcomings in a recent DHS internal review of potential domestic violent extremism threats within DHS itself.

The Nevada senator said she was “really surprised and disappointed” that the review made no mention of antisemitism. 

“I’m also concerned by the finding in the report that DHS does not ‘track domestic violent extremism allegations as their own subcategory of misconduct,’” she added.

She went on to decry the department’s “lack of standardized reporting, a standardized definition.” 

Stephanie Dobitsch, the deputy undersecretary for intelligence enterprise operations, said she wasn’t familiar with the details of the review but said that “we absolutely see antisemitism as a real threat to the American people.”

The panel of homeland security officials was also questioned about how their departments — DHS and the FBI — define antisemitism. They indicated that the departments do not have a specific definition within their policies, although Ryan Young, executive assistant director of the FBI’s intelligence branch, told the panel that the Justice Department is reviewing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.