advocacy fight

Amid California budget deficit, nonprofit security funding on the line

Jewish advocates in the Golden State are getting ready for a major advocacy effort to secure funding in the state budget for grants to secure nonprofits

Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Bloomberg Philanthropies

California Gov. Gavin Newsom attends the United Nations Climate Action: Race to Zero and Resilience Forum Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies on September 21, 2022, in New York City.

More than a century and a half after the famous California Gold Rush, the Golden State continues to experience unpredictable boom-and-bust cycles. But now, they take the form of the state’s annual budget — and for the first time in years, the state faces at least a $22.5 billion budget shortfall due to inflation and poor stock market performance. 

The result is a budget proposal from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom that makes major cuts to some programs, while maintaining high spending levels in education and for progressive priorities like universal pre-K and healthcare for undocumented immigrants. 

One of the programs that may be vulnerable this year is the state’s nonprofit security grant program, which last year provided almost $50 million in grants to help nonprofit organizations fund security expenses. If the program is not funded for the 2023-2024 year, it would mark a major reversal: In September, Newsom signed a bill pledging to keep the program going indefinitely, albeit subject to the annual appropriations process.

Jewish community members in California are gearing up for a significant advocacy fight to ensure that the funding gets added back to the budget — and they’re asking for more money than last year, citing rising antisemitism and other forms of hate.

“This is literally item No. 1 on our agenda,” California Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, an Encino Democrat who chairs the Legislative Jewish Caucus, told Jewish Insider. Legislators from the Jewish Caucus will meet with Newsom on Thursday to discuss the security funding. More than 300 Jewish activists will be in Sacramento next week for a lobbying summit focused on the security funding and other issues supported by the Jewish community such as Holocaust education and supporting refugees. 

Only 38% of the organizations that applied for nonprofit security funding last year received it, according to data provided by the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, which advocates on behalf of the state’s Jewish federations. 

“Even though it’s a really challenging budget year, we’re pushing for $80 million, because we still feel that the program is oversubscribed,” said Gabriel. “There’s a lot of worthy institutions out there that did not get funding.” The funding is available to any nonprofit, and Jewish advocates have partnered with other minority communities to advocate for the grants. The program was created to supplement the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which also is unable to fund every organization’s request. 

Newsom is expected to release a revised version of his budget proposal this month, but he has not indicated whether the security funding will be included. (It is common for the governor to make changes to the budget in the second draft after consultation with the legislature.) Jewish Insider did not receive a response to a request for comment sent to Newsom’s office.

“We’ve gotten indications from his advisers that there won’t be anything new added in May because of this budget shortfall, and that makes us deeply concerned,” said David Bocarsly, JPAC’s executive director. 

Last year, the state budget funded the nonprofit security program at a lower level than the $80 million that Jewish advocates had lobbied for. But the nearly $50 million provided by the state was still among the highest in the nation, along with New York. California is home to the nation’s second-largest Jewish population after the Empire State. 

“Having no money in the budget is certainly worse than having some money in the budget,” said Bocarsly.

In 2019, Newsom added $15 million to his budget to help secure nonprofits after a gunman killed one person and injured three others at a Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., near San Diego. “We all must call out hate — against any and all communities — and act to defend those targeted for their religious beliefs, who they love or how they identify,” he said at the time.

Conservatives have attributed this year’s budget deficit to overspending during the COVID-19 pandemic and urged Democrats to cut back on spending. Jewish advocates are quick to point out that Newsom has been supportive of Jewish priorities in the past. 

“To say that this is a result of politics at all is, I think, misleading. This is the process. We have to advocate for what our community needs,” said Bocarsly. “We will be quite disappointed if we don’t see security funding this year. But we’re optimistic that there’s still time left to include it in this budget and that it will be included.” 

The California Jewish community worked closely with Newsom in 2019 and 2020 as the state legislature drafted a model ethnic studies curriculum that would become mandatory for high school students across the state. The original draft of the curriculum was widely criticized in the California Jewish community. In 2020, Newsom vetoed a bill that would have adopted the controversial curriculum, and later worked with Jewish advocates to edit the curriculum that he later signed into law in 2021. 

“He’s been there for us when we’ve needed him to be,” Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area, said of the governor. 

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