Reductions in firefighter funding grant program passed
|Arriving on-scene: US firefighters can expect a reduction in AFG funding
The House and Senate versions of the FY 2010 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act both contain sizable reductions in funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program. Both the House - passed bill (H.R. 2892) and Senate - passed bill (S. 1298) would provide $390 million in funding for AFG - a $175 million decrease from FY 2009. Both bills provide $420 million for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, a 100 percent increase from last year.
AFG and SAFER provide funding through a direct, competitive grant process that incorporates fire service input at every step along the way, from criteria development to peer review of applications. AFG primarily provides funds to help local agencies purchase equipment, training, and apparatus. SAFER grants are used to hire career firefighters, with 10 percent set aside to assist local fire departments with recruitment and retention efforts.
President Obama's FY 2010 budget request proposed reducing funds for AFG by 70 percent, from $565 million to $170 million. In subsequent Congressional hearings on the budget request, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano gave two primary justifications for cutting AFG so drastically: $210 million had been made available to the fire service in the form of fire station construction funding in economic stimulus legislation that passed earlier in 2009, and funds were shifted from AFG to SAFER in order to help career fire departments avoid layoffs.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees restored $210 million in funding from the President's budget but complied with the President's proposal to shift funds from AFG to SAFER. An amendment increasing funding for AFG from $380 million to $390 million was adopted when the FY 2010 DHS Appropriations Act was considered by the full House of Representatives. The House Rules Committee blocked three other amendments increasing funding for AFG by $20 million, $30 million, and $40 million respectively, from ever being offered.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) had worked closely with Congressmen Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Peter King (R-NY), and Steve Austria (R-OH) in developing the $40 million amendment. The $20 million amendment was offered by Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL), and the $30 million amendment was offered by Congressman Jason Altmire (D-PA).
The NVFC worked with Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Robert Casey (D-PA), who offered an amendment to increase funding for both AFG and SAFER by $50 million during consideration of S. 1298. The amendment was defeated in floor vote by the full Senate, but another amendment offered by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) was adopted increasing funding for AFG by $10 million.
With the DHS Appropriations having passed the House and Senate, the bill will now go to a conference committee, where differences between the two versions will be sorted out. Since the House and Senate funding levels for AFG and SAFER are the same ($390 million and $420 million, respectively) it is likely that they will not be changed in the conference committee report.