Let's say that you are the head of a nonprofit. You've been around in the community for a while and you have a prominent building and location. You hear about the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Urban Areas Security Initiative Nonprofit Security Grant Program and want to apply.
The program is going to give out almost $19 million in funding this year to nonprofits to make them better prepared for a terrorist attack. The money is to support “target hardening activities” like training and equipment for high-risk targets in high-risk cities. As the director of your nonprofit, you’re worried about your security, so you decide to apply.
Here’s my advice to you: if your nonprofit isn’t a religious organization, don’t even bother. If you’re with a medical or educational organization and you’re really confident in your proposal, you can give it a shot—but don’t get your hopes up.
Why not? Because this program is structured to heavily favor religious institutions.
That’s bad news for nonprofits that aren’t affiliated with a religion, but it’s potentially worse for taxpayers, because taxpayer-funded grants might be going to organizations with inferior proposals just because they are religiously affiliated. Furthermore, communities with high-risk organizations might lose out on funding to protect them from terrorism because of a rule giving a significant advantage to religiously-affiliated groups.
Here’s how it works: the application is scored out of 40 points added up from 12 scored questions. But after those questions are scored, there is an extra bit of faith-based math done to reach the final rankings. From the DHS grant guidance:
To calculate the final score, the sum of each applicant’s Federal and State scores will be multiplied by three (3) for nonprofit organizations with religious affiliation, by two (2) for medical and educational institutions, and by one (1) for all others. Final scores will then be sorted in descending order and nonprofit organizations will be selected for funding from highest to lowest until the available FY 2011 NSGP funding has been exhausted.
So if a small nonprofit affiliated with a religious group (be it a church, a mosque, a temple, a synagogue or some other religious entity) filled out the application and received the worst possible rating—a score of one out of four—on answers for the nine major questions and an additional four points—a satisfactory score—for each on the minor categories (which are evaluated on a smaller scale), their score would be 13. (Technically, zero would be the worst rating, but zeroes are awarded when an organization “did not address” a subject instead of “poorly” addressing a subject.) But because they are a religious organization, their scored would be tripled to 39. Read that again: a religiously affiliated nonprofit’s grant proposal can get one of the worst possible ratings, but achieve a nearly perfect final score.
But if the nonprofit Metropolitan Opera Association wanted to get a grant to help protect the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it would have to get a near-perfect score to even compete with a small religiously affiliated nonprofit that earned the worst possible rating on its proposal.
This practice of giving preferential treatment—and almost unbeatable odds—to religious organizations stems from President Bush’s creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and an executive order allowing religious organizations to compete for federal grants.
President Obama has continued the practice (albeit with some small changes), and has yet to address the major concern that many groups have with faith-based grants, which is that they are allowed to discriminate when hiring based on religion even though they are receiving money from taxpayers (of all religious persuasions). Religious organizations aren’t allowed to use federal money for religious activities and they can’t discriminate on who they help based on religion, but they are allowed to keep discriminatory hiring practices.
While this practice is bad for nonprofits that aren’t religiously affiliated, the larger issue is that this money might not be getting to the organizations facing the most risk. There are surely many religious organizations that deserve money to help them prepare for a terrorist attack, but their need should be judged on equal footing with nonreligious nonprofits.
Andre Francisco is a POGO communications associate.