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Murphy commits to working for nonprofit security funding boost

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that proposed a funding cut for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program

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Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) speaks with reporters following a news conference after a policy luncheon with Senate Democrats in the U.S. Capitol Building on June 14, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

A bipartisan group of legislators affirmed their commitment to increase funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Tuesday afternoon at a High Holiday Security Briefing held on Capitol Hill, despite intensified funding pressures on Capitol Hill this year. 

In rare public comments on the NSGP, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said he is committed to working toward a “big, meaningful increase” for 2024.

The full Appropriations Committee approved the subcommittee’s proposal to cut more than $18 million from the program in 2024, despite worsening funding shortfalls in 2023. The program, funded at $305 million, fulfilled just 42% of applications in 2023. 

Murphy attributed the proposed cut on overall funding shortages in the Senate’s Homeland Security budget for 2024, which he said had required 6% cuts to all Department of Homeland Security grant programs. 

But Murphy said he aims to secure a funding increase in final negotiations between the House and Senate, and emphasized that his subcommittee has been supportive of significant NSGP funding increases in the past.

The House Appropriations Committee, which pulled funding from other areas to supplement homeland security, supported a $10 million NSGP increase in 2024 to $315 million. A proposed bipartisan amendment in the House would boost that level by an additional $20 million.

“My mission — and our mission — is to make sure that when we reconcile the Senate bill with the House bill that we deliver another big, meaningful increase in the not-for-profit security grant program,” Murphy said. “I hope to be able to deliver some very good news for you as we work through the budget between now and the end of the year.”

He highlighted that antisemitic incidents in his home state doubled in 2022, as well as acknowledged that the “threat to Jewish communities is different and we should treat it as different.” 

But he said that there are “common threads” in tactics that can be used to counter various forms of violence and hate. Murphy, whose home state was the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, has been heavily involved in efforts to combat gun violence and school shootings in particular.

Murphy said that he believes that “just as much — probably much more” funding is needed to root out the causes of hate and extremism as for addressing physical security needs. He mentioned education for children and efforts to identify and shut down extremist groups as crucial to addressing the heart of the issue.

“This becomes a very difficult conversation that I’m really eager to have. Because there is no doubt increased physical security matters. Sometimes it just matters for peace of mind,” Murphy said. “But what matters more than peace of mind? But in the end, as we have seen in elementary school, after elementary school, no matter the amount of security you have, you are very rarely ever truly safe, so long as that dangerous hate exists.”

“As eager as I will be to increase funding for this program… that can’t be enough, and it will never be sufficient,” he continued.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), the co-chair of the Senate’s bipartisan antisemitism task force, emphasized the importance of addressing the “basis of hate.” He called for the widespread adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, advocated for expanding and improving education on antisemitism and highlighted the need to keep combating antisemitism as a bipartisan issue.

“My hope… is that in the days ahead, this is not a topic of conversation as we approach the High Holidays, [and] it is assumed that people are able to live in peace and be able to have their faith and live their faith out,” Lankford said. “That’s where I want us to be able to get. In the meantime, let’s do what it takes to continue to be able to secure our locations and to be able to [set our people] at ease.”

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), who chairs the House’s bipartisan antisemitism task force, said that the task force will be receiving briefings from administration officials on their efforts to implement the administration’s national strategy on antisemitism. The group is set to speak with Catherine Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education about antisemitism on college campuses later this month, a spokesperson for Manning told Jewish Insider

Manning said she’s also drafting legislation to implement recommendations laid out in the strategy.

Manning, a former Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) chair who helped advocate for the program’s creation, said NSGP funding is more critical than ever given rising threats and antisemitism. “And that’s why I joined 135 of my house colleagues to call for an increase to $360 million of funding in fiscal year 2024,” Manning said.

Congress has less than three weeks remaining to address government funding and avert a Sept. 30 shutdown. Leaders in both chambers have been planning for a short term funding bill to allow them more time to finalize 2024 funding levels, but House conservatives demanding further spending cuts could be an obstacle to such a measure.

Tuesday’s briefing was organized by JFNA, Secure Community Network (SCN), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Orthodox Union (OU), with the support of six other major Jewish organizations. 

JFNA President and CEO Eric Fingerhut opened the briefing with a call for “full funding of the [NSGP] program at the $360 million level.” Fingerhut pointed to unprecedented spikes in antisemitism and said additional public resources are required. 

“It is truly indispensable to the physical security of churches, synagogues, mosques, and all other faith-based places of gathering across the country,” he said. “There’s not a security camera or security door that isn’t in some way costly and needing the help and support of these resources.” 

Michael Masters, SCN national director and CEO, said the Jewish community remains the number one target of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. as they prepare to gather for the High Holy Days this month, noting that his organization has trained more than 7,700 people on security measures ahead of Rosh Hashanah.

“We have made much progress, but there is much more work to do,” Masters said. “Every religious facility in America must be protected, every member of a faith-based community must be trained, we need to expand NSGP and similar efforts, and our efforts must be professional, specific, and ongoing.”

Nathan Diament, executive director for the OU Advocacy Center, said “we have it in our hands to combat and reduce hate.” 

 “We have it in our hands to first take measures to ensure the security and safety of our communities,” Diament continued. 

Meredith Weisel, who heads the ADL’s Washington office, said funding for the NSGP is critical because “pundits, politicians, and platforms have embraced the type of hate and conspiracies that were previously reserved for the fringes of society and are now being amplified in more mainstream spaces.”

 “In the face of rising threats towards religious and other nonprofit institutions, funding has enabled congregations to improve their security measures and allowed millions praying in houses of worship, especially during the holiest time of year, to have the peace of mind that their institutions are equipped to deter and protect against these attacks,” Weisel said. 

Brandy Flack, executive director of Margolin Hebrew Academy in Memphis, shared her experience when a shooter opened fire outside the school last month. Flack credited security protocols with saving her life.

“A man came to our school poised on committing a mass shooting and thankfully he failed. He failed because he was unable to enter our buildings. Only a few weeks earlier, our doors had been replaced and hardened with deliberate access control. The federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program funded this life saving security upgrade.”

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