The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced $1.6 billion in grants to help state and local officials prepare for and respond to a range of hazards, including acts of terrorism and threats to election security.
The funding will be distributed among eight so-called “preparedness grant programs” in fiscal year 2022, across six priority areas, including cybersecurity, soft targets and crowded places, intelligence and information sharing, and domestic violent extremism.
The threat landscape facing the nation has evolved since the DHS was established nearly two decades ago, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
“As the threats to our nation continue to evolve, our grant programs must evolve with them,” Mayorkas said, noting that two new priority areas have been designated this year for the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant programs: community preparedness and resilience, and election security.
The state homeland program will receive $415 million and the urban area program will be given $615 million, with specific allocations based on statutory minimums and an assessment of relative risk.
For both the state homeland and urban area grants, 30 percent of the funds must be designated for law enforcement activities meant to prevent acts of terrorism. Another 30 percent must address the six priority areas, including election security.
Election security concerns have featured more prominently on the DHS agenda in recent times, with the agency announcing it was establishing the Disinformation Governance Board, partly to fight against election interference.
Critics have derided the board as a threat to free speech. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the Disinformation Governance Board a “monstrosity” and said he initially thought it was “satire.” Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called it “Orwellian,” while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed it would be used as a cudgel against political opponents.
Mayorkas has dismissed concerns about the operation of the Disinformation Governance Board, insisting its work will not infringe on free speech, civil liberties, or civil rights.
“It’s not about speech, it’s about the connectivity to violence. That is what we need to address. You know, an individual has the free speech right to spew anti-Semitic rhetoric. What they don’t have the right to do is take hostages in a synagogue, and that’s where we get involved,” Mayorkas said in a recent interview with Fox News.
In his remarks on the announcement of the new $1.6 billion in preparedness grants, Mayorkas referred to the synagogue hostage situation in Colleyville, Texas, as a factor that drove a request for additional funds for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).
“This program provides essential resources to help protect nonprofit organizations at risk of terrorist attacks,” he said, adding that this year, Congress will provide a total of $250 million for the program, an increase of $70 million from last year.
Mayorkas added that, under next year’s budget request to Congress, President Joe Biden will request an additional $110 million for the nonprofit security grant program.