Government Funds: Opportunity or Challenge

Would your synagogue accept government funding?

There certainly are a number of opportunities for this. The first that comes to mind is of course security. Last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded $13 million to not-for-profit and religious institutions that it considered being located in geographic areas vulnerable to terrorism for security purposes. According to the Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish organizations –including I will bet some synagogues – received $12 million of this funding.

It should also be noted that in 2004, the total funding that was available to not for profit organizations for security purposes was $25 million.

How about funding for a Pre-K program? Early Childhood Education programs have become an integral part of the programmatic agenda of many synagogues. In recent years, there have been Federal monies available that have been funneled through state and local governments. The New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, made universal pre-K one of his signature campaign themes during his election and then found the funding for it. Orthodox institutions in New York City were trying to find a way to jump on this bandwagon as the one stumbling block was how to provide religious education for a set number of hours each day.

And there is a health care tax credit. I have blogged about this one a couple of times. This tax credit is actually a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) – “Obamacare” to many of its detractors. Figuring out if your synagogue qualifies for the tax credit is a bit of a process. And you have to file a 990-T form with the IRS to show that your synagogue qualifies, to determine the amount of the tax credit, and of course in order to receive the cash.

When this piece of the PPACA became law back in 2011, the whole process seemed pretty cumbersome to me, and it still does. Lots of forms to determine eligibility and in order to receive the tax credit. I still wonder if any synagogues have ever done this (if your synagogue takes advantage of this tax credit, I would greatly appreciate if you could let me know).

How do you feel about the separation of church and state? This is one of the core principles that led to the creation of the United States. Should synagogues pursue and accept such money directly from the Federal, State, or local government in light of this fundamental belief?

Maybe this is a precedent for the future. What happens when a bill in Congress supporting School Vouchers or even direct parochial school (remember, this includes Jewish Day Schools, too) funding is introduced? Like the IRS 990-T form for the health care tax credit, are you willing to also satisfy all of the financial reporting that will require even more comprehensive information? Are you prepared to cover the costs of an annual audit (expensive, but a good thing) that will be required?

There is one school of thought that it is okay for government monies to be awarded to local Jewish Community Federations that in turn, would award such funds to constituent JCCs, and Jewish Family Service organizations. The hope is that such government money for Pre-K, security upgrades, or even for older adult programs would free up other community money that could be made available to local synagogues. It sounds good in theory. Such “extra” community funds have to be available which is not often the case.

I would be interested in hearing from you if your synagogue has ever received government funds and whether there was discussion among synagogue leaders about such church-state issues.

 

 

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