PEMA to South Jersey: ‘No Funds for You’

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Frustrated by being deemed ineligible for federal dollars to boost their security profiles, Jewish organizations in South Jersey are screaming, “Show me the money!”

Frustrated by being deemed ineligible for federal dollars to boost their security profiles, Jewish organizations in South Jersey are screaming, “Show me the money!” The problem is, no one knows who they should be screaming at.

Who exactly is elegible for homeland security grants remains a source of contention for Jewish communities in the southern half of New Jersey. While the purpose of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) is to support nonprofit organizations deemed a high risk of terrorist attack with so-called “target hardening” and other physical enhancements, eligible nonprofits must be located within a specific Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) region.


The Philadelphia UASI covers the five counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia — and for years, communities located in the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) across the Delaware River that includes Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties were deemed eligible to apply for the security grants.

MSAs are determined by the federal Office of Management and Budget.

But this year, just days before the grant application deadline, nonprofit organizations within the South Jersey MSA were told that their applications would not be considered. Ronald Stanko, acting director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security in Pennsylvania, confirmed that his office, which had begun the process of reviewing, or “scoring,” the applications, was told to stop work. The precise reason was not made clear to Stanko at the time.

According to Stanko, institutions from Southern Jersey have applied successfully for grants during the past three years.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), which is the state administrative agency for Pennsylvania, is in charge of determining what grants are sent on to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

According to Cory Angell, deputy press secretary for PEMA, his agency received a call from FEMA telling them to stop administering grants to institutions outside of the Philadelphia UASI. Angell stated that in the last grant cycle, three grants were awarded outside of the UASI.

Calls to FEMA to confirm were left unanswered as of press time.

This newfound explanation as to why this year’s grant applications from the MSA would not be considered runs contrary to what Alise Panitch and Uri Halle of Cherry Hill, who have both been involved with the grant application process for Jewish day schools and institutions in their region, had been told.

Halle, who as a security consultant specializing in nonprofit security grants has helped Jewish institutions from inside and outside the UASI put together grant applications, was told by multiple sources that MSAs can be deemed eligible by the designated state appointing agency and the Urban Area Working Groups (UAWG) involved in the application process. In Philadelphia, the local UAWG consists of five appointed representatives, one from each county’s emergency management organization, explained Stanko.

Provided that PEMA and the UAWG gave their blessing, nonprofits within the MSA could begin the detailed application process. Still, PEMA and the UAWG are not obligated to consider grant applications from the MSA. 

The fight for the right of New Jersey communities to apply to the NSGP was taken up by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) back in 2007. In a statement at the time, he pointed out that the UASI for Philadelphia included communities more than 50 miles away from the city center, but not communities in New Jersey that are far closer.

“Only a river separates parts of South Jersey from Philadelphia, but when it comes to this homeland security funding program, you’d think it was an ocean,” Menendez said in the 2007 statement.

“For all intents and purposes, an attack on Philadelphia is an attack on South Jersey. The communities across the river from Philadelphia need to be prepared, the first responders need to be equipped, and the funding distribution should reflect this reality.”

The Jewish institutions in South Jersey are hoping that their politicians can step in to advocate for their cause.

“They’ve all been very helpful,” said Halle. “[We] talk to [Rep. Donald] Norcross’ office twice a week, Sen. [Cory] Booker’s office once in a while [and] Sen. Menendez.”

Panitch added that they’ve been following up with Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.). Panitch met with Brady’s staffers earlier this month during the Orthodox Union Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C.

Halle said that in a conversation with Menendez’s office last week, a staffer expressed that eligibility for 2015 “looks bad,” but they could still lobby for fiscal year 2016. Halle further suggested that a call from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf could be beneficial, noting it’s a powerful political tool for a politician to be able to tell his or her constituents that they secured funding for domestic security purposes.

For fiscal year 2015, $13 million was allotted for the nonprofit security program. Eligible nonprofits can apply through their state appointing agency for up to a $75,000 grant award to be used for “target hardening activities,” such as the acquisition and installation of security equipment.

Applications are reviewed in two phases, first at the state level and then at the federal level. Eligible applications are scored by the state agency in coordination with the UAWG. State agencies can make rankings at their discretion, but with consideration for need compared to other applicants and the impact and feasibility of the proposed project.

The highest scoring projects are submitted to a panel made up of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA headquarters and regional program analysts or grants management specialists, who eventually whittle down the application pool until all funds are disbursed.

-Increasing funding to the $25 million threshold has been a priority of several Jewish communal organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security approved a proposal to increase allocations for the NSGP to $25 million for 2016. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America applauded the move, noting in its press release that Jewish institutions have received more than $130 million through the NSGP.

A full vote by the Appropriations Committee was expected June 18.

The OU thanked Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) for their support on the issue.

“The Jewish community expresses its deep appreciation to the Senators who approved the funding increase for protecting America’s nonprofits, and particularly those in the Jewish community,” said Nathan Diament, OU executive director for public policy, in the same statement.

“We have seen a disturbing rise in threats and attacks on community institutions and, when finalized, the funds provided under the NSGP will not only keep our community safer, but they will also be a statement of solidarity and support in the face of such threats.”

Contact: mapter@jewishexponent.com; (215-832-0742).

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