Portman wants bill to protect synogogues following mass shooting

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is urging Senate leadership to take action on a bill that he says would better protect synagogues and other nonprofit institutions in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., released Tuesday, the Ohio Republican urged the two leaders to pass a bill authorizing federal spending for the Department of Homeland Security that includes two amendments authored by Portman and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich, aimed at protecting nonprofits.

The first would grant Jewish communities and other nonprofits access to Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars that are currently only available to metropolitan areas.

Portman’s second amendment would ensure that nonprofits can participate in Joint Counterterrorism Awareness Workshops. The forums, Portman wrote, can help nonprofits as they assess threats to the community.

Portman says not enough nonprofits — including those in Ohio — are benefiting from FEMA’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

Under his proposed amendment, 30 percent of the funding for that program would go to nonprofits outside of the Urban Area Security Initiative metro areas.

The Urban Area Security Initiative provides funding to high-threat, high-density urban areas. Although $10 million of the $60 million from the overall security grant program would go to areas outside UASI, no cities in Ohio currently qualify to receive that money, according to Portman.

The money is a good start, Portman wrote, but “it is not sufficient.”

He wants the Senate to pass full funding for the overall grant program and make sure that nonprofits in states like Ohio get their fair share.

“As we have seen from the scope of threats to nonprofits in recent years, the threat extends well beyond our largest urban areas,” he wrote.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Portman’s two amendments in March, but the measure has yet to move through the full Senate.

“We need to get this done this year and show we are doing everything we can to protect synagogues in Ohio and across the country,” Portman said.

About the Author