Peters Calls for Increased Funding to Help Protect Houses of Worship from Terror Attacks

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and a bipartisan group of his colleagues called on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) receives adequate funding to meet the needs of houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations that want to help secure their facilities against potential terrorist attacks. In recent years, there have been a significant number of prominent threats and attacks on institutions including synagogues, churches, mosques and gurdwaras in communities in Michigan and across the country.

“Places of worship should be a safe haven, and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program is a vital resource for synagogues, mosques and churches that are working to protect their congregations in light of tragic attacks,” said Senator Peters. “I have long championed this program, and I’m proud to join my colleagues to call for robust funding that will help ensure houses of worship, cultural institutions and nonprofit organizations in Michigan and across the country can use this important tool to improve their security and continue serving our communities.”

The Nonprofit Security Grant Program provides grants to help at-risk institutions and nonprofit groups plan for and safeguard their facilities against potential attacks. Grants can be used to harden facilities, promote emergency preparedness training, and strengthen security coordination between communities, emergency responders and state and local government agencies. Last year, 21 nonprofit institutions in Michigan received a grant from this program.

As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Peters has fought to increase resources available to faith-based and nonprofit institutions that are under threat from terror attacks. Peters authored bipartisan legislation to increase funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program that was signed into law last year. Peters also previously held a roundtable with faith leaders and law enforcement officials from the Detroit Metro area to discuss the need for additional security resources for faith-based institutions in Michigan.

U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY), James Lankford (R-OK) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) joined Peters in sending the letter. The text of the letter is copied below and available here.

Dear Chairmen Shelby and Capito, Vice Chairman Leahy, and Ranking Member Tester,

Thank you for your continued support for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) under the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP). As you finalize the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Homeland Security Appropriations bill, we respectfully ask you to fund NSGP at the funding level that reflects increased risks to the nonprofit sector. Presently, the House and Senate drafts are far apart on recommended levels of funding for the program.  The House top line is $360 million and the Senate’s $90 million.  During conference, we urge you to ensure the NSGP is appropriately funded to meet the needs of at-risk populations.  At a time of heightened threat to nonprofit faith- and community-based organizations, a bolstered NSGP will continue to provide our nonprofit partners with critical resources and tools they need to protect lives and property.

The NSGP provides for grants to nonprofits deemed at risk of terrorist (or violent extremist) attack, to acquire and install physical security enhancements, conduct preparedness planning, training and exercises, and contract security personnel.  The program has improved efforts to keep at-risk nonprofit organizations safe by promoting emergency preparedness coordination and collaboration between public and private community representatives as well as state and local government agencies. Today’s quickly evolving threat environment provides a compelling public interest in protecting against attacks on the nonprofit sector that would disrupt the vital health, human, social, cultural, religious, and other humanitarian services and practices they provide to communities, and which threaten the lives and well-being of millions of Americans who operate, utilize, live, and work in proximity to them.

At the beginning of this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center jointly assessed that Domestic Violent Extremists and Racially/Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVEs) will continue to pose a lethal threat to faith-based communities, particularly the Jewish community, and remain concerned about the difficulty of detecting lone offenders due to the individualized nature of the radicalization process. During a recent Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on threats to the Homeland, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that the number one threat the nation faces from domestic violent extremists stems from RMVEs, who are considered the most lethal of all domestic extremists in the post-911 environment. To illustrate his point, Director Wray recounted the arrest last November of Richard Holzer on federal domestic terrorism and hate crime charges for attempting to blow up a historic synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado and provoke “a racial holy war.”

Additionally, according to the latest FBI Hate Crime Statistics 2019 report, which was released earlier this month, reported hate crimes motivated by religious bias increased by 100 to a total of 1,650 in 2019, of which more than 60 percent were anti-Jewish incidents (a more than 14% increase).  Per this reporting, the Jewish community remains the top target of faith-based hate crimes for the 23rd consecutive year.

These assessments underscore the persistent threat of lethal violence and hate crimes against the Jewish community and other faith- and community-based institutions in the United States. These groups have too frequently been the victim of many different types of violence. At this time of rising concern, FEMA has reported that on average only about one-third of nonprofits seeking critical security investments secure funding, annually. The requests exceed the available resources every year.  Yet, in today’s threat environment, demand for NSGP resources is expected to grow substantially more, further widening the needs gap.

Since its inception, the program has maintained bi-partisan, bicameral support as an efficient and effective means to accomplish a great deal of security enhancement and preparedness through modest grants.  With this support and for the reasons stated above, we respectfully encourage you to bolster the NSGP funding, so our nation can do all that it can to protect at-risk faith- and community- based nonprofits from increasing extremist and hate-motivated threats.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.