Jewish groups get Homeland Security grants
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Jewish groups get Homeland Security grants

While Jewish institutions will receive the majority of the federal funds allocated to this state’s nonprofit organizations by the Department of Homeland Security to improve their security infrastructure, funding to northern New Jersey as a whole dropped from last year.

The department announced last week that New Jersey received more than $64.6 million in ‘008 allocations, representing an overall increase of 3 percent over last year’s funding. However, the seven-county Urban Area Security Initiative received just under $35 million, representing a 3 percent decrease from last year. The UASI includes Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, Essex, Middlesex, Morris, and Union counties.

Thirteen nonprofit organizations within the UASI, 10 of which are Jewish institutions, will share $834,618 under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey received $100,000 in last year’s allotment to increase security in its new building. (See story, page 6.) The federation was not eligible for funding this year.

"In terms of Homeland Security, Jewish institutions generally fall in the target group that’s considered high-risk," said Robert Moss, development director of Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford, which will receive a $75,000 award. "Fortunately, we haven’t had a problem, but in the post-9/11 era everybody is sensitive to the heightened level of risk."

Officials from Homeland Security, New Milford, and Bergen County performed an assessment of the school in March to identify security needs. Areas identified for upgrade included perimeter security, surveillance, and physical barriers to what Moss called "highly sensitive areas."

He would not elaborate on the specifics of the assessment but said the results would "improve the outside security as well as the inside security and give us further identification of intruders."

SSDS will receive $75,000 and provide $’5,000 of its own money as required by the grant’s 1-to-3 match requirement. Moss emphasized that the grant money pays for only equipment and infrastructure, not additions to personnel.

"Getting this grant should give families who have students at the school a sense that we are really doing everything that we can to protect the kids," he said.

Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson intends to use its $75,000 to enhance security to its entrances and parking lot. JFS’s Teaneck office sits on stilts above its parking lot, which creates a security threat from cars driving underneath the building. JFS intends to use the grant money to install a gate to control who enters the lot, Lisa Fedder, JFS’s executive director, said on Tuesday.

"We need to secure it, to make sure that only cars that belong there park there," she said.

The money will also help JFS improve lighting in and around the facility and install multiple "panic buttons" throughout the building.

"Those are the kinds of things we’re doing," Fedder said. "It’s really all about enhancing physical security so our staff and clients can feel better about where we are."

Roger Shatzkin, spokesman for New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, attributed the high number of Jewish institutions among the recipients to the organizations meeting funding criteria rather than a government focus on Jewish institutions.

One of those benchmarks, which Shatzkin offered as a possible explanation for the high number of Jewish organizations on the list, is whether the organization can prove that similar groups around the world have been targeted.

"We know we’re a target," Fedder said. "If somebody really wants to cause damage they’ll find a way to do it but we want to minimize their opportunities."

As for the decrease to North Jersey overall, the state can absorb the cut because of other funding, according to the OHSP.

"New Jersey held its own during this funding cycle," said Richard L. Ca?as, director of the OHSP, in a statement announcing the grants last week. "While I’m disappointed by the slight decrease in UASI funding, our increase in risk-based statewide SHSP funding should more than make up for the slight drop. No ongoing UASI initiative should be affected. Overall, we will continue to ‘buy down’ risk in New Jersey and follow the governor’s mandate to distribute funds by identifying the state’s areas of greatest threat, consequence, and vulnerability."

Reactions to the funding from New Jersey’s representatives on Capitol Hill were mixed.

"I wish the funding level had been greater, but I am pleased to see organizations within my own district … bolster their security efforts," Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) said in a statement sent to the Standard. Pascrell is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. "Each organization selected to receive this funding sufficiently demonstrated a risk during the application process that met the Department of Homeland Security’s eligibility requirements. A number of New Jersey schools, places of worship, hospitals, and museums all stand to benefit from the $834,000 allocated to our region."

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which awarded $15 million to the nation’s nonprofits last year, lashed out at DHS for decreasing the area’s funding.

"It has been my position since 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security that DHS has consistently failed to take into account the dangers that we face here in northern New Jersey," he told the Standard on Wednesday.

Rothman cited the proximity to New York and North Jersey’s links to the city via the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, and the Holland Tunnel; Newark’s Liberty Airport, the third busiest in the country; and the two-mile stretch between Liberty Airport and Port Elizabeth, which the FBI has called the most dangerous two miles in the country because of the high number of chemical plants there.

Northern New Jersey, Rothman said, is "the most densely crowded area of the most densely crowded state in the United States."

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