JFS and Federation are Working Together to Advocate for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program

by Jacqueline Bull June 28, 2019


michael-hopkins-at-vigilCalifornia Governor Gavin Newsom put 15 million in his May Budget revision for the nonprofit security grant program. The California nonprofit security grant program was established in 2015 and since 2015, they have spent a total of 4.5 million.

Bill AB-1548, introduced by assemblymen Brian Maienschein and Jesse Gabriel would codify the program “to improve the physical security of nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of violent attacks or hate crimes due to ideology, beliefs, or mission.”

“In past years the governor would just kind of fund it, but it was never really defined and so this is to define and hopefully thereafter it will be funded each year. That bill right now has passed out of the assembly here in California and is flipped over to the Senate, so it still hasn’t made the rounds for the governor to sign the bill, but it is on its way. So there is still advocacy work to ensure for it to be enacted,” Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service San Diego, said.

The advocacy work is where JFS and the Federation have banded together to represent the San Diego Jewish community.

“All of the Jewish organizations are concerned about the safety of our institutions, so this budget line would provide potential significant funding to help our organizations improve their physical security. Our effort in this regard is to stand alongside JFS to advocate our elected officials to approve this budget request and codify the request in AB-1548 which essentially establishes this nonprofit security grant program, so we’re here to stand alongside and represent the Jewish community to advocate for the release of these funds,” Michael Jeser, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, said.

If the bill passes, this would differentiate California’s nonprofit security grant program from the federal government’s and expand what the grant could be used for. The California program had been previously modeled on the federal program through homeland security.

“JFS, for example, has in the past received two homeland security grants. They could only be used for capital items. We used them for cameras and alarms, fencing. The new California grant program permits ongoing expenses like security guards to be an allowable expense. So that is very different from the federal government, the federal government will not reimburse for any operating expense, but the California program will. That is really a distinct difference and so the codification of the California law al- lows for the nuances in California. Security guards, for example, are really critical as we know many synagogues, JCC, JFS all have employed security guards and so those expenses are eligible to be reimbursed,” Hopkins said.

The bill has passed on the assembly side and is now in the Senate. Hopkins said he was hopeful that the bill is going to pass, but he expects it will be carried over into the fall.

“We already heard back from Senator Brian Jones who we met with in Sacramento…we got a note from Senator Brian Jones who represents the Poway area who is particularly receptive; understandably, you can imagine why he would be so receptive. There are other geographic regions in our county with representatives, so we’ve encouraged people to reach out to their representatives to support the passing of this bill,” Jesser said.

And if the bill does pass, who might receive grants from this program?

“I think the language in terms of ‘high risk for violent attacks or hate crime due to ideology, beliefs or mission’ is really clear, so that is everything from the Jewish community to the Islamic community to the LGBT community. We’ve seen an increase in the amount of hate crimes exhibited towards the transgender community.

“I would say around the state and specifically within the Jewish community, a lot of small synagogues thought they were off the radar. And obviously the deadly attack at the Chabad in Poway is a wake up call for all of us that you don’t just have to be JCC or JFS to have to have thought about your training and security and planning. All of us need to strengthen our approach to security. So these dollars are really critical, particularly for smaller synagogues–to give you some ballpark numbers, I think that even one guard year-round by the time you are all done, it could easily be one hundred thousand dollars–and so for a small synagogue that maybe has a budget of less than one million, spending that amount of money for one guard is extraordinary. So clearly, they are going to need this expense,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said he has a sense of who would apply and that it was his understanding that the Federation and Leichtag would want to help synagogues in preparing their grant applications. (“For a lot of smaller synagogues that maybe don’t regularly write grants, that technical assistance is going to be invaluable.”)

“Assuming the funds do become available, the Federation is very interested in exploring ways of helping the community access the dollars. We’re interested in exploring ways to help make that possible and support organizations in their efforts…This is a great opportunity for the community to harden its security,” Jeser said.

And for bigger organizations like JFS, security has been literally built into how they do business.

“Security was built into the design of the new campus, so our property now has a
perimeter fence and dozens and dozens of cameras, we do have armed guards on our campus and at our migrant shelter and are spending over a half a million dollars a year
providing security at our sites. So that is a pretty big number.

“Spending statewide millions of dollars or for local nonprofits and synagogues to be spending tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars is unfortunate. I mean, it is our new normal. It is our new reality. When we think about in our operating budget, our first half a million doesn’t support food or individuals who are experiencing poverty or doesn’t strengthen our programming, but in fact goes to cover just creating a safe environment for our clients, staff and volunteers. It is not about being hopeful, it is about being pragmatic, it is the cost of doing business in the times that we are in.

“And unfortunately with security, it seldom goes in the other direction. We layer on levels of security so whatever we are spending today on security, you can be certain in five years or ten years that number is going to be much greater. It just becomes a higher cost of trying to serve our community,” Hopkins said.

Jeser expressed being grateful that the governor put this forward and that witnessing the rise of anti-Semitism and hate crimes, the community will appreciate the additional support to feel safe.

“Some of this is about making our congregants and our members and our families feel safe walking into houses of worship and Jewish schools and Jewish centers…Because of the rise in violent crimes against faith-based communities and other minority groups, I think this makes us feel supported, it makes us feel the country and the government are listening to our concerns and we are grateful that they are moving quickly on this,” Jeser said.

Both Michael Jeser and Michael Hopkins spoke at the Poway vigil which saw about 4000 people show up in support.

“I’ve been in San Diego for nine months and I’ve been very proud of how this community has responded and I’m proud to be a part of it,” Jeser said.

“You hope people never become desensitized and they continue to be vigilant and tight as a Jewish community. Coming together not only in times of crisis, but in times of celebration like we did around Israelfest. It is a painful time for the Jewish community and at the same time we are strong, we are resilient and we continue to come together,” Jeser said.

The full text of Assembly Bill 1548 California State Nonprofit Security Grant Program is available online.


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