BOSTON — Churches, synagogues and mosques can access an expanded pool of money to bolster their facilities against attack or hate crimes under a bill signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday.
Baker said a $452 million supplemental budget included extra money for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which will expand to more than $1.5 million this year. The grant can reimburse nonprofits for the cost of metal detectors and surveillance cameras; adding more lighting, fencing or locks; and other security upgrades.
Baker said the need is "unfortunate" but the money will help fortify places of worship that are increasingly targeted.
"There's no place for this stuff in Massachusetts," he told reporters at a ceremonial bill signing on Monday at the Statehouse, where he was flanked by faith leaders and lawmakers.
"We have the backs of those who are here to practice their faith and to live their lives without worrying about being assaulted or, in some cases, maimed or killed because of those beliefs," he said.
The grant was set up several years ago to help nonprofits that didn't qualify for federal funding. It has struggled to meet growing demand.
The Baker administration replenished the program with $500,000 in the state's annual operating budget, chipping in an additional $1 million from the supplemental spending package he signed last month.
The money for security upgrades follows a surge of high-profile attacks on the Jewish community, including shooting rampages at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and at a synagogue in Poway, California, in April.
A recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City area culminated in a mass stabbing at the home of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration Dec. 28.
All have raised security concerns among religious leaders, including locally, where state leaders and civil rights groups have noted a surge in reports of bias and hate crimes.
Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead said his congregation has received grant funding for security though it wasn't sufficient.
"Violence is an epidemic in the country and while the urgency for security upgrades is not new, it is increasing," he said. "The fact that there has been increased incidents of anti-Semitic hate rhetoric and violence is a reminder that we need to remain vigilant about everyone's security."
Laurie Tishler Mindlin, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation, said the need for grant funding is great. Many of the synagogues in the group operate on shoestring budgets that leave little extra money for security upgrades. She said the additional funding will go a long way.
"Everyone is trying to raise money to protect themselves," she said. "Some might need an armed guard for events, while others might be looking to add a surveillance camera or a buzzer to screen people at the front door."
The program allows houses of worship and other nonprofits to apply for grants of up to $50,000. The money cannot be used for hiring staff, major construction or to buy weapons or ammunition. Applicants must demonstrate a need to update security.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security already issues grants of up to $100,000 to houses of worship, day schools and nonprofits in major U.S. cities. Congress is debating an increase in funding for that program from $60 million to $90 million.
Last year, Jewish leaders wrote to Baker asking for increased funding for the state's grant program. They pointed out that New York state, by comparison, spent $15 million on a similar initiative while New Jersey has provided $11.5 million.
Nazia Ashraful, director of government affairs for the Massachusetts chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, said the Islamic community is also concerned about security and expects leaders at area mosques to be interested in applying for grants.
"It's reassuring to see money coming from the state," she said. "It makes the mosques and those attending them feel safer, and more connected to the local government."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.