As chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee — and for many years before that, as the congressional representative for New York’s 17th District, encompassing Rockland County and parts of Westchester — Congresswoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, has worked to enhance security funding for nonprofit organizations.
She first was elected to Congress in 1988, and she was the ranking Democrat on the appropriations committee before the Democrats retook the House in 2018.
“I believe nonprofits and religious institutions are the foundation of many great communities across the country, and they must be protected,” Ms. Lowey said in a press release. She noted that in 2018 the committee established a homeland security grant program to support nonprofit organizations that are outside designated Urban Areas Security Initiative jurisdictions but still have been determined to be at high risk of a terrorist attack.
Now, one of Ms. Lowey’s senior advisers said, the spending bill that funds the federal government through September 2020 will increase that funding by 300 percent, raising it from $10 million to $40 million. The new funds are part of a competitive grant program to which all nonprofits may apply. Monies received must be used for target-hardening, including measures such as installing cameras and barricades.
The increased spending reflects a bipartisan effort, the adviser, who requested anonymity, said, and even legislators from districts not as directly affected by the issue as Ms. Lowey’s “are starting to pay attention. There are so many instances of religious-based violence,” and that places renewed emphasis on the need for enhanced security. Given the polarized political environment, “This amount is monumental,” the adviser said. “It’s a serious issue we need to confront. The congresswoman is always working on this. While it’s a big victory, it’s not the end.”
“With anti-Semitism and other hate crimes on the rise in New York and across the country, this increase is essential to keeping our communities safe,” Ms. Lowey said, according to the press release.
According to Ms. Lowey’s communications director, Katelynn Thorpe, there was no one factor responsible for Ms. Lowey’s push for increased funding. “We had an opportunity with the new budget deal, new caps, new allocations,” the adviser said. “She would have increased the funding years ago if she could have.” She also noted that Ms. Lowey has secured additional funding to enhance regional preparedness and security capabilities, including $710 million for firefighter equipment and staffing grants; $665 million for Urban Areas Security Initiative Grants, including $50 million for nonprofit organizations; $560 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, a $35 million increase from the FY2018 enacted level; and $125 million for the Emergency Food and Shelter program.
Although Westchester County is part of a UASI region, Rockland is not, and it was unable to gain access to federal funding to protect its nonprofits until Ms. Lowey expanded the security funding program in 2018. David Kirschtel, the CEO of JCC Rockland, said that the latest increase “is critical to support the security needs of the greater community. JCC Rockland was extremely appreciative to be included as a recipient of funding in the first round of funds two years ago, which was the first time nonprofits in Rockland County were eligible. As a Jewish community center located close to the N.Y. State Thruway and the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge” — the former Tappan Zee Bridge — “we are hopeful that with this significant increase in funding, we will be able to secure additional dollars to secure our campus.”
Ms. Lowey recently joined Michael Specht, Ramapo’s town supervisor, and the American Jewish Committee’s chief executive, David Harris, to honor Josef Gluck. Mr. Gluck was guest at the Chanukah party in Monsey, during which a man wielding a machete attacked party-goers at the home of Rabbi Chaim Leibowitz Rottenberg. After attempting to move people towards the back of the house, away from the attacker, Mr. Gluck threw a coffee table at him, followed him outside, and took down the number on his license plate.
“Thank you, Josef,” Ms. Lowey said, according to another release issued by her office. “Without you, we would have never caught him as quickly as we did. What New York is experiencing can only be called an epidemic. In the past year, anti-Semitic crimes in New York City have increased by 21 percent. The attack here in our backyard was the 13th anti-Semitic crime in the New York City area just last week. We must seek long-term solutions to this age-old problem.”
In addition to serving as chair of the Appropriations Committee, Representative Lowey is the co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism. The task force is made up of 176 members of Congress, who come from across the country, from all religions, and from both sides of the aisle. Since 2015, the task force has worked to ensure that Congress plays an integral role in spearheading initiatives to combat anti-Semitism, both domestically and abroad.
“I condemn in the strongest words the anti-Semitic attack at Rabbi Rottenberg’s home,” Ms. Lowey’s press release continued. “I continue to keep the victims of the attack and their families in my prayers.”