money talks

Reps. Thompson, Katko propose massive nonprofit security funding boost

In addition to proposing a funding boost to $500 million, the bill would create a dedicated office to administer the Nonprofit Security Grant Program

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A law enforcement vehicle sits in front of the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on January 16, 2022, in Colleyville, Texas.

The leaders of the House Homeland Security Committee introduced a bill on Friday proposing $500 million in annual funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) from 2023 to 2028, nearly tripling the current funding, as House lawmakers scramble to finalize government funding bills for the balance of the 2022 fiscal year.

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act was introduced on Friday by Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and John Katko (R-NY), respectively the chair and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. The $500 million proposal is well above the NSGP’s 2021 funding level of $180 million, which the House and Senate appropriations panels had proposed maintaining for the current fiscal year. It also exceeds the $360 million that Jewish nonprofit groups and leading congressional advocates for the program have publicly called for. NSGP provides funding for houses of worship and other nonprofits for security upgrades.

But the bill would not necessarily guarantee the $500 million funding level and would not impact 2022 spending levels. The bill also directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the NSGP, to establish a dedicated office within the agency to administer the grants, another request made by Jewish community groups.

The new legislation is an authorization bill, meaning it can modify the existing NSGP program, but can only propose, not guarantee, the increased funding level. The House and Senate Appropriations committees — and each full chamber — would still set the final funding levels. 

According to Nathan Diament, the executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, committee members were involved in conversations around the legislation, and it is “constructively impactful on the appropriations conversation” for 2022.

“It’s often the case that you have authorization bills that are at higher levels than what the appropriators do. But it’s important because, first of all, it is planting a flag in terms of the importance of the program. And it also allows — if the need is greater and if the funds are there — for the funding level to grow even further,” Diament said. “But the fact of the matter is our target… for the balance of this fiscal year remains $360 million.”

In a letter to committee members on Monday, Diament and the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s chairman, Jerry Wolasky, said the organization “strongly endorses this bill and is committed to gathering widespread support for it.” 

The legislation is set to be debated by the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, a rapid turnaround for newly introduced legislation.

“I am proud of the bipartisan work that Congress has done with DHS in recent years to authorize and fund this critical grant program, but today’s terrorism threat picture demands we do more,” Thompson said in a statement. “I am pleased that the Committee is meeting the moment and is scheduled to consider this legislation this week.”

In 2021, the NSGP fulfilled less than half of the grant requests it received due to a funding shortfall.

“Faith-based communities across the country face varying levels of discrimination, and it is vital that we strengthen our nation’s emergency preparedness posture to prevent violence against all religious groups,” Katko said in a statement. 

The NSGP office outlined in the bill would conduct “outreach, engagement, education and technical assistance” with nonprofit groups, focusing in particular on “underserved communities”; create videos to help organizations apply for the grants; and provide feedback on declined grants.

It would also collect data about the effectiveness of grants; create accountability mechanisms; institute uniform guidelines for states that help provide and administer the grants, including requirements to “eliminate or prevent any administrative or operational obstacles”; and audit grantees to prevent improprieties.

Diament said that the NSGP’s expanding size — it began as a $25 million program — has prompted the need for an institutional body to administer the program.

“At present, the demand for… protection far exceeds the supply of federal grants available for adequately hardening America’s at-risk targets. A greater, more realistic, infusion of funds is needed to make up this shortfall and more fully protect vulnerable entities,” Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s vice president for government affairs, told JI. “The bipartisan Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act of 2022 will be a significant step toward fulfilling that need, providing greater resources to help address the many complexities of the threats facing nonprofits.”

Cohen urged the committee to “swiftly report the bill out favorably.”

“The recent hostage crisis in Colleyville, Texas, highlighted the very real threat facing synagogues and other religious institutions in today’s environment,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. “The Nonprofit Security Grant Improvement Act of 2022 will bolster available funds to ensure that the Jewish community and other faith-based communities can worship safely and securely.”

Greenblatt recently testified before the House panel.

Katko and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ) are the only Republicans currently supporting the legislation. The other cosponsors are Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Lou Correa (D-CA), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Al Green (D-TX), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Val Demings (D-FL), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY).

“It’s also important in the current environment to underscore that this is bipartisan,” Diament said. “This program in general has been very bipartisan — remained bipartisan — in a very polarized environment and we’re very grateful.”

The Jewish Federations of North America, Secure Communities Network and the Sikh Coalition, which have recently sent representatives to testify before the Homeland Security Committee, are also supporting the legislation.