The Lead

Pa. awards $5M to help houses of worship, others protect against hate crimes

By: - March 11, 2020 4:26 pm

The Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo)

Houses of worship, healthcare centers and other non-profit organizations were awarded a collective $5 million in security grants on Wednesday, intended to help them protect their patrons from hate crimes.

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency voted at a meeting Wednesday to approve grants ranging from $7,200 to $150,000 to 113 non-profit organizations in 26 counties.

It’s the first round of disbursements from Pennsylvania’s Nonprofit Security Grant Fund Program, which Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law in November 2019.

The program is designed to prevent attacks such as the one that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh in 2018, where a gunman killed 11 worshipers in a rampage that federal prosecutors deemed a hate crime.

“I wish this program weren’t necessary, but I’m proud of the work that got us to $5 million in funding for it statewide, and I’m glad that institutions across the Commonwealth will see improved security,” state Sen. Jay Costa, an Allegheny County Democrat whose district includes Squirrel Hill, said in a statement Wednesday. “No one should live and worship in fear.”

The commission, which administers the grant program, received more than $27 million in grant requests for the inaugural round of funding, according to documents appended to its Wednesday meeting agenda.

According to a grant summary, the commission gave priority consideration to organizations whose members had been victims of hate crimes, or those that had received credible hate crime threats.

Non-profit organizations were invited in February to apply for up to $150,000 to fund security upgrades to their facilities, including equipment such as metal detectors and surveillance cameras or professional threat assessments and security training.

To qualify for the security grants, nonprofits must serve individuals who can be victims of bias-motivated hate crimes — a category that the FBI says includes acts motivated by someone’s race, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.

Commission records show that five non-profit organizations received the maximum award of $150,000. Those recipients included Jewish day camps and schools, community centers, and synagogues, as well as a Chester County school for students with disabilities.

The grant recipients also included a small number of Mosques and Islamic community centers. The Khair Community Center in Phoenixville, Chester County received a $90,000 award, and the Muslim Association of Lehigh Valley is slated to receive $74,000.

The commission also approved awards to healthcare providers and groups serving the LGBTQ community, including $35,080 to Planned Parenthood of Western PA and $54,000 to the Allies for Health & Wellbeing, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Pittsburgh.

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.