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EMS Grants News and Articles
Date last updated: Saturday, June 9, 13:39 PST
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House OKs additional grant funding for 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The annual and arduous task of deciding how much federal money to commit to the fire service is in full swing. So far, the news is good; how it ends up is anyone's guess.
On Thursday the House of Representatives approved two amendments to the FY2013 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, H.R. 5855. Both had bipartisan sponsorship.
The final bill passed 234-182.
One measure will return the level of funding for SAFER and FIRE grant programs to their FY2012 level. Each program had been cut $2.5 million, but with the restoral, each will have $337.5 million in its budget.
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the bill in May with grant funding levels at an identical $337.5 million.
The other House measure restored $7.67 million to the Urban Search and Rescue system. That program had been cut by $13.73 million from FY2012 levels. With the additional funds, the USAR system will have 35.18 million — also identical to the Senate version.
U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., a long-time advocate for the fire service, addressed the House prior to the amendment votes.
"Independent observers have found that FIRE and SAFER work: an independent study from the U.S. Fire Administration found that grants like these are making our fire departments more prepared and better equipped to protect our communities," Hoyer said. "Cutting FIRE and SAFER makes it more difficult for our communities to recruit, train, and retain skilled firefighters. And, it makes it far more difficult for our departments to equip themselves with the up-to-date tools critical to protecting property and saving lives.
"I want to make clear that I am not pleased with the offset being used to restore this funding. However, I recognize that my colleagues were left with very few options, given the cuts made to the overall bill. I am hopeful that this will be addressed in conference with the Senate."
One area that so far has not seen funding restored to FY2012 levels is the U.S. Fire Administration. House funding for USFA is set at $42.46 million, a $1.58 million cut from last year's funding level. The Senate bill funds USFA at $44.02 million.
Bill Webb, executive director of the Congressional Fire Service Institute (www.cfsi.org) said it is encouraging that the both houses of Congress are at the same spending level. He is concerned about the difference in allocation to USFA.
"Passage of the two House amendments brings the House figures in line with the Senate figures for AFG/SAFER and USAR, so we have a good idea of what the final figures will be," Webb said. "On the other hand, there's quite a gulf between the House and Senate figures for USFA. Our hope is that the Senate figure will prevail in conference."
And before anyone starts to feel too good about the apparent level of agreement on this appropriation, we are talking about a deeply divided Congress with a near-term history of not getting things done now in the throes of a very nasty presidential election year.
One concern, Webb said, is the limited amount of time lawmakers have left to get the bill passed and to the President.
"Congress has few days remaining to complete its work prior to Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year," he said. "Between the Fourth of July recess and August recess, Congress will spend little time in Washington conducting business."
The fire-service funding piece is but a cog in a much larger machine, which also increases the difficulty in getting the bill passed on time.
"Given the opposing concerns expressed by the House and Senate regarding a number of provisions, it is hard to say whether these differences can be resolved," Webb said. "If not, Congress might pass a series of continuing resolutions to fund DHS and other federal agencies beyond the November election and return for a lame duck session to complete its work on the unfinished appropriation measures. Let's hope common sense will prevail and the DHS appropriations bill will be approved before the start of the next fiscal year."
Politics and the process of lawmaking aside, the very real problem of a delay in appropriating funding is that it hamstrings DHS's ability to prepare for the 2013 grant cycle.
In the meantime, the fire service is left holding its collective breath.