The Trump administration’s decision to fund community-led programs to counter extremism is a pragmatic step forward — one with clear benefits to Minnesota — to deliver on campaign promises of strengthening national security.
Late last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is going forward with a fledgling community grants program to fund grass-roots youth programs and locally led nonprofits. The grants aim to build resilience in communities — such as Minnesota’s large Somali-American population — that have been targeted by terrorists. Community-led measures emphasize prevention, which is why it’s imperative that they are included in a comprehensive national security strategy.
A 2016 Star Tribune editorial series urged Congress and Homeland Security officials to robustly fund the pioneering nonprofits already involved with the state’s Somali-American community, as well as other groups working nationally to thwart extremists of all types. In January, in the final days of the Obama administration, Homeland Security officials announced the grant recipients for the first round of funding — $10 million — that Congress had approved. Two Minnesota organizations were among those receiving awards: Ka Joog, a nationally lauded after-school program for Somali-American young people, and Heartland Democracy, a respected Minnesota-based nonprofit.
In February, Ka Joog rejected nearly $500,000 in funding over concerns that the Trump administration’s countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts would focus only on Islamic extremism. But the other sums, including the nearly $165,435 awarded to Heartland, sat in limbo as new Homeland Security leaders assessed the program. A June 9 Star Tribune editorial took the agency to task for the delay, which officials attributed to a review to “ensure the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.”
On Friday, Homeland Security made the welcome announcement that the agency has decided to invest in these community-based grants, a positive development that reflects well on the agency’s new secretary, John Kelly. The agency also revised the list of grant recipients and the sums awarded to them, with favorable changes for Minnesota.
Heartland, which works with at-risk young people, is still on the list. But its grant has been increased to $423,340. The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is a new recipient and has been awarded $347,600. The substantial sum reflects the office’s admirable history of engaging with the Somali-American community under Sheriff Rich Stanek.
Regrettably, it is unclear if this will be the last round of Homeland Security grants. The Trump budget does not call for additional funding in 2018. But that shouldn’t stop Congress from meeting the need. This is a chance for Minnesota’s congressional delegation, particularly its three members in the Republican majorities, to step up and lead.
Kelly’s backing of the grants is nevertheless a positive sign about the agency’s future support for community-based CVE programs. So is the careful language that accompanied the announcement. Fears that CVE strategies would narrow to Islamic extremists pushed Ka Joog to decline the money. But there is not one word in the Homeland Security news release that suggests the agency has made this shift.
The federal grants also put a spotlight on worthy community efforts. Being a recipient will lend credibility to these organizations and hopefully inspire further investment from nonprofits and community-minded corporations. Private funding and leadership are still urgently needed.