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The State of Communal Security, Seven Years After

September 11, 2008 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Feature
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Despite receiving a combined total of more than half a million dollars from the Department of Homeland Security in 2005 and 2007, no Philadelphia-area Jewish agencies were awarded security grants in 2008. But, seven years after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, that might just turn out to be a good thing.

"Looking at the rest of the country, we were not deemed to be at as much risk from terrorists" as other areas, said Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Aimed at protecting at-risk nonprofits (Jewish and otherwise) from terrorism, the grants (formally known as the Nonprofit Security Grant Program) are specifically for "security hardening," said Schatz, and organizations must specify in their applications what the monies will be used for -- whether it be new security systems, surveillance cameras, barriers in front of buildings to protect from car bombings, or glass that contains explosive protection materials.

Area Jewish nonprofits received $330,000 in 2005 and $245,000 in 2007, according to Schatz, and in 2005 the bulk of the monies went to area synagogues, day schools and JCCs. No grants were given out in 2006, but in 2007 the money was split three ways, among the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Jewish Employment and Vocational Services, and the National Museum of American Jewish History, according to Ruth Myers, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Federation has received the maximum amount awarded each year, and plays a central role in the application process.

The grants are awarded through DHS's Urban Areas Security Initiative. Developed in part by United Jewish Communities, the program was championed in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and in the House of Representatives by Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price (D-N.C.), to name just a few.

Schatz said she received 14 applications for 2008, similar to previous years. Applications -- or, more formally, investment justifications -- from area Jewish groups are collected and screened by Schatz before being passed along to the state level for a first look, where they are screened, rated and ranked by the local Urban Areas Security Initiative and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association. The criteria are need and current threat level. PEMA acts as the formal applicant to DHS, essentially applying for subgrants on behalf of the organizations seeking funds.

When the applications reach PEMA, they are vetted and checked for accuracy, before being sent to DHS, which reviews the applications to determine which areas are at the greatest risk and award funding as such, said Robert Goldberg, senior director of legislative affairs at UJC.

Grant recipients must pay for the security upgrades on their own first, before submitting bills to PEMA for reimbursement. While a maximum amount of $75,000 is currently available to applicants, Schatz said organizations given grants were required to put up 25 percent of the project costs themselves.

Though yet to be officially announced, the only Philadelphia-area nonprofit to receive a grant this year was Abington Memorial Hospital, and Schatz said that money from DHS often goes to first responders, who benefit the entire community in times of crisis, Jews included.

Goldberg said the outcome of the grant process "can be different from year to year, depending on what information is out there in terms of threats."

While the program's first round of grants doled out $25 million to 18 eligible at-risk areas, subsequent years have seen less money needing to go further -- $24 million in 2007, and $15 million in 2008, distributed to 28 of the 60 eligible areas.

Goldberg stressed that the reduction of funding didn't indicate anything other than that "funding caps in Congress are tight, so all programs are being squeezed, and last year this program was squeezed, as many others were."

"This is not a formula-based grant program where each state -- or, in this case, each designated area -- is guaranteed at least a minimum allocation," continued Goldberg. "In all of the grant programs now run at DHS, each state must submit investment justifications making their case, and DHS determines how they're going to allocate the funds. It's a risk-based program and, as such, if Philadelphia secured fewer subgrants this year versus in the past, it's our impression that DHS had determined this year that the need was greater in other communities at this time."

So what does the future hold? Goldberg said pending Homeland Security bills for 2009 contained a $20 million allocation from the Senate, while the House bill kept the allocation at $15 million. He expressed hope that the $20 million would prevail, but said the process was currently at a standstill, and that it remained unclear if funding would be solidified before Congress adjourns next month, or if a continuing resolution or lame-duck session would be required.

Regardless, Goldberg said UJC expects the program to continue, and he emphasized that "the program didn't just appear out of thin air, but is tied to threats as recent as even last week."

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