- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A bipartisan group of senators is calling for increasing federal funding for security measures at houses of worship following last month’s hostage standoff at a Texas synagogue.

Democratic Sens. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Gary Peters of Michigan, and Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and James Lankford of Oklahoma have written a letter to congressional appropriators to increase funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).

The Jan. 14 siege of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, “crystalized how difficult it is for law enforcement to detect and prevent these threats before they occur, and it raised potential questions about our mechanisms to vet individuals coming to the United States who may do our citizens harm,” the senators wrote.

The senators are among a number of lawmakers and religious leaders calling for doubling the funding of the NSGP, which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security.

Grant recipients can use the funding for a variety of protective products and services, including private guards, physical enhancements such as barriers and bollards that block vehicles from driving into a building, and security screening equipment for people and baggage. 
The funding also can be used for security training programs such as the one Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of the Texas synagogue credited as preparing him to handle the hostage situation.  

“Last year, for example, when there was $180 million of grants available, about $400 million of grants were applied for,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish organizations in the U.S.

Mr. Diament told The Washington Times that applications were “not only by Jewish community institutions, but by churches and others. That actually gives you a real indication of the need.”

Asked whether it can be demonstrated that a grant has deterred an attack, Mr. Diament said it is more likely that a potential assailant who scouts a possible location will “think twice before taking any kind of action” at a facility with enhanced security.

Established by Congress in 2005, NSGP offers grants of up to $150,000 each to synagogues and other houses of worship as well as parochial day schools and other nonprofits at risk of terror attacks. Advocates assert much more is needed.

Mr. Portman said in a statement that as the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he will attend a February hearing “to examine additional steps the federal government can take to protect houses of worship, faith-based organizations, and other public community centers from terrorist and violent extremist threats.” He did not specify the “additional steps” contemplated.

Ms. Rosen, who co-chairs the Senate’s Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Antisemitism, said she has a personal connection to the groups NPSG is designed to help.

“As a former synagogue president, I know how important it is to strengthen and protect faith-based institutions from threats of violence,” Ms. Rosen told The Times via email. “I will continue fighting to increase our investment in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program so we can help save lives and keep communities safe.”

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer signaled his support for increased NSGP funding at a Manhattan news conference.

“What happened in Texas sent shockwaves throughout the entire world,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. “Religious spaces — our churches, our synagogues, our mosques, our temples — must be places of peace, not places of fear, not places of warning, and certainly not targets of attack.”

On Tuesday, the program received an additional bit of support during confirmation hearings for Shalanda Young, President Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Ms. Rosen asked Ms. Young whether the Biden administration would include a “specific allocation” for the program in future budgets and if it would keep pace with the “growing needs” for such grants.

Ms. Young said, “I’ve worked on this program since I started on the [House] Appropriations Committee” in 2007. “You have a partner in me in that program.” She said she would work with OMB staff to “make sure” that an amount is clear in future budgets.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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