Jewish communal leaders applauded President Obama’s move earlier this month to include $15 million in the 2010 federal budget for a grant program enhancing security at communal institutions, marking the first time a president has asked for such funding in the budget. In the past, the initiative has come from Congress.
The Orthodox Union, the country’s largest Orthodox umbrella group, and United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for the North American federation system, have lobbied Congress each year for the funds to be included in the budget.
“In the wake of 9/11, we started looking at this,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs in Washington.
Synagogues, day schools, federations, and other Jewish organizations have received funding from the Urban Area Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program each year since its creation in 2005.
The grants enjoy wide support on Capitol Hill. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which determines funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security, commended Obama’s inclusion of the funding.
“I am glad to see the administration’s proposed Homeland Security budget allocation for the Urban Area Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program,” he said in a statement e-mailed to The Jewish Standard. “I will be working with [Homeland Security Subcommittee] Chairman David Price (D-N.C.) on our subcommittee to make sure that Congress adopts the president’s line item or increases it.”
In fiscal year 2007, Jewish agencies, schools, and synagogues in northern New Jersey received more than $600,000, including $100,000 for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. Part of the criteria for the funding is to demonstrate a high risk of attack. Diament lamented that Jewish institutions tend to fit that description.
“There have been actual attacks and threats to Jewish institutions in the U.S. and throughout the world,” said Alan Sweifach, director of strategic planning and allocations at UJA-NNJ. “The security enhancements made possible through the Homeland Security Grants to non-profits have enabled our institutions to become better protected,” Sweifach added.
New Jersey received more than $64.6 million in 2008 allocations, representing an increase of 3 percent over the previous year’s funding.
Thirteen New Jersey nonprofit organizations shared $834,68 under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program last year. Ten of those organizations were Jewish institutions.
Among them were Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford and Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson in Teaneck, which each received grants of $75,000.
The 2009 recipients have not yet been announced.
Security enhancements the funds have purchased include security cameras, card key entry devices, exterior lighting, Jersey barriers, shatter proof glass, and intruder alert systems. “Many of [the enhancements] are visible improvements that not only protect, but can deter attackers,” Sweifach said.
Congress will likely begin examining the 2010 budget this summer. Diament is optimistic that the proposed funding will make it into the final draft “given the fact that we’ve had success in the past years and now have the administration’s support on top of that.”