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House votes to restore funds in SAFER grant program

June 13, 2011
Lehigh Acres Citizen
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to adopt an amendment to the FY 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations Act restoring $320 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program.

The amendment, which the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) supported and sent a It was offered by Congressmen LaTourette (R-OH) and Pascrell (D-NJ) and increases funding for AFG and SAFER from $200 million and $150 million, respectively, to $335 million each. The amendment was approved by a vote of 333-87.

Earlier on March 10, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S. 550) along with original co-sponsors Scott Brown (R-MA), Thomas Carper (D-DE), and Susan Collins (R-ME). The bill would reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs through 2016.

S. 550 is nearly identical to the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2010 (S. 3267), which was introduced in April of last year but was never enacted. Both bills include a number of provisions that were recommended by the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) in conjunction with other national fire service organizations, including:

AFG

• Guarantees 25 percent of AFG funds each to career, combination, and volunteer fire departments, respectively. “Paid on-call/stipend” departments would be considered combination departments for the purpose of applying for AFG.

• Increases from five to 10 percent the funds set aside for the Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant program and increases the maximum award amount through FP&S from $1 million to $1.5 million.

• Makes state fire training agencies eligible to receive up to three percent of AFG funds.

• Allows FEMA to waive the matching requirement for fire departments that can demonstrate financial hardship.

• Establishes new maximum award amounts:

• $9 million for departments serving a population of 2.5 million or more.

• $6 million for departments serving a population of between 1 million and 2.5 million.

• $3 million for departments serving a population of between 500,000 and 1 million.

• $2 million for departments serving a population of between 100,000 and 500,000.

• Departments serving a population of 100,000 or less will continue to have a grant cap of $1 million.

• Allows for the creation of fire safety research centers, which would be joint projects between a national fire service organization and a university and would focus on firefighter health and life safety.



SAFER

• Makes national organizations eligible to apply for SAFER recruitment and retention funds.

• Eliminates the $100,000 cap per firefighter hired using SAFER funds.

• Allows FEMA to waive the matching requirement for fire departments that can demonstrate financial hardship.

There are several differences between the Senate bill and the recommendations made the NVFC and the other major fire service organizations, including:

• The local matching requirement through AFG for departments protecting communities of 50,000 or more is 15 percent in S. 550 compared with 10 percent as recommended by the fire service.

• S. 550 establishes a five percent matching requirement for FP&S grants while the fire service groups had recommended eliminating matching through FP&S. Under current law, nonprofit organizations have no FP&S match while fire departments have to put up the same local match as they would through AFG. The NVFC is advocating eliminating the match for fire departments through FP&S in order to encourage more applications and to provide parity with nonprofit organizations.

• The fire service organizations are recommending that the length of a SAFER hiring grant be reduced from four years under current law to three years. S. 550 does not alter current law.

• The fire service organizations recommended setting the local matching requirement for SAFER hiring grants at 20 percent per year while S. 550 sets the requirement at 25 percent. Under current law, the match starts out at 10 percent and increases each year.

• S. 550 specifies that peer reviewers of AFG applications from career, combination, and volunteer fire departments as well as non-affiliated EMS organizations be primarily drawn from the ranks of the same type of agency. S. 550 also requires the inclusion of non-fire service-based EMS representation on criteria development panels. The fire service groups did not recommend altering the peer review or criteria development processes currently in place. The NVFC believes that the AFG peer review and criteria development processes have been extremely successful and do not need to be changed.

• S. 550 would authorize AFG and SAFER at $950 million per year, respectively, and allow the authorization level to increase at the rate of inflation. The fire service groups had recommended that the existing authorization levels of $1 billion for AFG and $1.05 billion for SAFER be extended.

• S. 550 sunsets at the end of FY 2016, which means that all of the changes in the bill would expire if they are not extended. In such a scenario, the U.S. Code governing AFG and SAFER would revert back to their current incarnation. The fire service groups did not recommend a sunset.

• S. 550 limits individuals AFG awards to no more than one percent of the overall appropriation in a given fiscal year. Under current law, awards cannot exceed .5 percent of the overall appropriation.



The NVFC joined with other major fire service organizations the day that S. 550 was introduced in sending a letter expressing support for the Senate moving forward with reauthorizing AFG and SAFER, while raising concerns over some of the differences between the Senate bill and the joint recommendations made by the fire service organizations.









 
 

 

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