Washington — A government program tailored to provide security grants for Jewish institutions is facing deep cuts and changes that will eliminate the advantage those institutions had in bidding for the federal grants.
Guidelines issued on February 17 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security eliminate a built-in preference for religious groups that was among the reasons that Jewish organizations were the top recipients of grants under the program. Funding for the entire program was slashed to $10 million in 2012 from $19 million in 2011.
Even with the new guidelines, Jewish activists contend that the program will still provide funding for the community’s security needs because of the increase in threats against Jewish institutions mainly from groups close to Iran.
“Recent events have acutely reminded us that the Jewish community and our institutions are eyed by those who would do harm to the innocent,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of public policy at the Orthodox Union.
The Nonprofit Security Grant Program was created by Congress in 2005 to increase security for vulnerable institutions in light of the September 11 terror attacks. It was lobbied for and supported by Jewish groups and, according to an analysis of the program published by the Forward, essentially operated like a “Jewish earmark.” The Forward found that 74% of the grants went to Jewish organizations.
Jewish groups enjoyed greater access to the program, thanks to an increased awareness within the community to the benefits it offered and because of the way the guidelines were written. The Forward analysis pointed to two key provisions that provided Jewish applicants with a significant advantage: “Nonprofit organizations with religious affiliation” received a higher score for their bid than other not-for-profit institutions, and a vague definition of terror threats took into account threats overseas in calculating the risk level of an institution.
The new guidelines basically do away with both of these provisions. “Highest weighted applicants are now defined as having ‘the highest risk of terrorism-related activity due to their ideology, beliefs and mission’ instead of those having a religious affiliation,” DHS’s new guidelines state.
The definition of “terror risk” also was changed. Instead of being a result of threats to the institution itself “or closely related organizations (within or outside the U.S.),” it no longer includes events “outside the U.S.” This means it will be more difficult for Jewish groups to use terror attacks against Jewish institutions abroad as evidence that they are at risk in America.
DHS did not provide an explanation for the guidelines changes, and a representative for the department did not return calls and emails from the Forward.