Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh Reuters

The Orthodox Union (OU) on Monday applauded the US House for passing a bill that would authorize $500 million annually for the next five years for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).

The money would provide greater outreach and funding for the 17-year-old initiative so that synagogues, other houses of worship, day schools and other nonprofits at risk of terror attacks can improve building security.

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act (HR 6825) was introduced in March by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), US House Homeland Security Committee chairman, and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), ranking member, in the wake of the Jan. 15 hostage-taking at a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue. More recently, an attack on a Southern California church left one person dead and five others wounded Sunday.

The legislation also directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the NSGP, to establish an office to administer the program and increase outreach, engagement, education, and technical assistance for eligible nonprofits.

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program is currently funded at $250 million, and the Orthodox Union has been pressing to increase that amount to $360 million. The new legislation, as an authorization bill, may modify the existing NSGP program, but can’t guarantee the increased funding. The House and Senate Appropriations committees — and each full chamber — will determine final funding levels. Since 2005, when the OU Advocacy Center helped spearhead the creation of the NSGP, the program has provided $849 million in grants to houses of worship and other nonprofits nationwide.

The Orthodox Union, through its Teach Coalition divisions, has successfully championed state-level security funding programs. In New York, for example, Teach NYS pressed for and secured $25 million for 2022 for the state’s Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes, as well as $45 million for Nonpublic School Safety Equipment; in Pennsylvania, in the most recent budget cycle, the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Fund awarded $5 million to nonprofits at risk of hate crimes, thanks to advocacy by Teach PA and its coalition partners; in New Jersey, Teach NJ pressed to fund the state NSGP at $2 million for 2022. Teach Florida’s push for Jewish day school security funding resulted in $4 million approved for 2021-22.

Orthodox Union President Mark (Moishe) Bane stated: “Jewish communities across the country have suffered greatly as a result of terror attacks in recent years – as evidenced by January’s hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, the horrific killing of innocents at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue four years ago, the deadly attack on a synagogue in Poway, Calif. just six months later, and the spate of attacks on Orthodox Jews in Lakewood last month, to name just a few. This weekend’s tragic attack upon a Southern California church is just the latest in assaults on communities of faith. We as a nation must do more to protect all people of faith.”

Orthodox Union Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament stated: “We commend Reps. Bennie Thompson and John Katko for their strong leadership in bringing this important legislation to fruition so that people have access to the protection they need in their places of worship. We urge the Senate to take up and pass this legislation without delay.”