Arkansas agency gives details of request for $500,000 to fund Right to Worship Safely grants

Joanna Garcia leaves flowers outside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., in this May 16, 2022 file photo. Authorities said at the time that the gunman in a deadly attack at the church one day earlier was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hate for Taiwanese people. (AP/Jae C. Hong)
Joanna Garcia leaves flowers outside Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., in this May 16, 2022 file photo. Authorities said at the time that the gunman in a deadly attack at the church one day earlier was a Chinese immigrant motivated by hate for Taiwanese people. (AP/Jae C. Hong)


The Arkansas Department of Public Safety is providing state lawmakers with details of its request for $500,000 in state restricted reserve funds to support physical security enhancement and other measures to assist "nonprofit ideology-based/spiritual/religious entities" in preventing and responding to terrorist threats and other extremist attacks.

The department will call the grant program its fiscal 2024 Right to Worship Safely Grant Program. Fiscal 2024 started July 1 and ends June 30, 2024.

Last month, Department of Public Safety Chief Fiscal Officer Karen Perry told lawmakers that Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders "promised to aid the Jewish community during the recent rise of antisemitic rhetoric crime, and this will allow funds for [the Public Safety Department] to provide grant funding to support security enhancements for nonprofit organizations."

Asked when and to whom the governor made that promise, and whether she promised a certain amount of money to any particular groups, Sanders spokeswoman Alexa Henning said Thursday night in a written statement that "No person or community should ever be violently targeted for their faith.

"There was no avenue to provide aid for those at high risk for a terrorist attack therefore the Governor and her staff worked with Arkansas State Police and the legislature to address that," she said. "State Police will assess these applications and verify there is a legitimate risk to a faith community before any money is allocated."

The Right to Worship Safely Grant Program is modeled after the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, said Cindy Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Public Safety Department.

She said Thursday there isn't a maximum grant under the state program.

The grant review committee "will decide based on the requests that come in," Murphy said. The grant review committee members have not been verified, she said.

Asked why the Public Safety Department didn't have a detailed grant program when it presented the request for $500,000 in restricted reserve funds to a Legislative Council committee and the full council last month, she said the department "[w]anted to make sure we would get the grant money before we created the program."

On Nov. 17, Legislative Council authorized its co-chairs Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, and Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, to approve the department's request for the one-time funding upon "receipt of grant of written guidelines for distribution of the grant program to include more specific definitions regarding what constitutes being under threat and what expenditures will be allowed to be covered by the grant funds, and parameters regarding amounts for individual grant awards."

Rice said Thursday that Public Safety Department officials "have taken three weeks" to present details of their proposal, "so we are just going to send" the proposal to the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee for its consideration Tuesday.

"That way the questions can be asked that are relevant," he said.

Rice said that Wardlaw said the grant program will begin accepting applications Jan. 1, so there isn't an urgent need for the duo to sign off on the department's request for the funding at this time.

The department's initial request for $500,000 in state restricted reserve funds stalled in the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee on Nov. 14 after lawmakers asked for more details about the grant program.

As part of the grant program, eligible ideology-based/spiritual/religious section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or exempt from tax under section 501(a) of such code institutions and organizations must develop a formal investment justification that addresses each initiative proposed for funding to support physical security enhancements and other security activities for the prevention, protection against, preparedness for, and response to terrorist threats or other extremist activities, the Public Safety Department's Research and Planning Division said in a document.

These investment justifications must demonstrate how the proposed projects address high-risk terrorist threats and/or extremist attacks, the Public Safety Department's Research and Planning Division said.

In addition, the investment justifications must demonstrate the ability to provide security enhancements consistent with the purpose of the program and guidance provided by the state Department of Public Safety, according to the department's Research and Planning Division document.

"Nonprofit ideology-based spiritual/religious institution/organization sub-applicants must ensure that the [investment justification] is consistent with all applicable requirements outlined ...," and each investment justification must be for one facility or location, the division's document states.

The Department of Public Safety has developed guidelines that establish the required investment justification content and help ensure that application submissions are organized in a consistent manner while addressing key data requirements, the department's Research and Planning Division said in the document.

"Failure to address these data elements in the prescribed format could potentially result in the rejection of the [investment justification] from grant review consideration." The grant application is eight pages.

The grant program's allowable costs include facility hardening activities such as planning and exercise-related costs, contracted security personnel, and security-related training courses and programs limited to the protection of critical infrastructure key resources, according to the grant application.

Funding also can be used for the acquisition and installation of security equipment on real property -- including buildings and surrounding property -- owned or leased by the nonprofit ideology-based spiritual/religious institution/organization, specifically in prevention of and/or in protection against the risk of terrorist or other extremist attack, the grant application states.

According to the grant application, the approved equipment list includes:

Security/police presence/contract security personnel.

Security cameras/video cameras/lighting/motion sensors.

Perimeter protection in the form of a gate or fence.

Access control to buildings.

Trip wire alarms.

Vehicle barriers.

According to the timeline for the grant program, the program would begin accepting applications Jan. 1 and the deadline for application submissions would be Jan. 15.

The grant program committee would meet to review grant application submissions from Jan. 15-31, and the grant program would announce the grant recipients Feb. 1 under this timeline.

The grant recipients' statement of grant awards and memorandum of understanding would be due at the Department of Public Safety on Feb. 9, and the grants would be distributed to the recipients from Feb. 12-March 1 under the timeline for the grant program.

The fiscal 2024 grant program would conclude Feb. 28, 2024, and all grant funds must be spent and all unused grant funds must be returned to the department's fiscal office, based on this timeline.

Quarterly fiscal, program performance measurement and data entry surveys for grant activity will be due at the Department of Public Safety on May 31, 2024; Aug. 31, 2024; Nov. 30, 2024; and Feb. 28, 2025, under this timeline.


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