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Public Statements

Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PASCRELL. We used to argue at one time on this floor whether or not to help communities to support the police department. We argued here on this floor as to whether this was a Federal issue, whether the Federal Government had any responsibility in terms of firefighters--I remember the debates--and police officers, and we made a decision on a bipartisan basis that it was a responsibility because we needed to protect the homeland.

So Democrats and Republicans supported the protection in trying to help communities fight crime and put out fires. We made that on a bipartisan basis, and it is a shame that we do not even consider the COPS program as part of homeland security because, if you don't have it here, you have it nowhere. This is a security issue. It is a priority. How many officers in the past 2 months have been shot down doing their job in this country? Double last year. And we know that small communities and large communities have taken advantage of the COPS program. This is important to our communities.

I was a mayor of the third largest city in New Jersey. I know what those police officers on the street in the communities mean to protecting folks in my town where I still live. I know the results. Since 1992, I know those results inside and out. You heard Mr. Weiner, who showed us the charts about what it has meant right across the United States of America. We're making a big mistake here. Throughout the United States of America, everybody, citizens know that when they see police officers walking the beat, they know there is a priority that the Federal Government has not forgotten.

I ask you, you cannot do to police officers and you cannot do to firefighters what this budget, at least for the next 6 months, is being represented by the other side. We are going to take up a FIRE Act pretty soon, the SAFER Act pretty soon with our firefighters. We can't do this. We can't pat them on the back and say, Great job. We can't go to the parades and say, Look at this; this is the protection we have in America, and do this in a program that's successful.

No one has stood and questioned the success of either of these programs. No one. I haven't heard one word tonight. If a program wasn't working, if cops weren't doing their job on the beat, then you'd stand and you would defend that particular position.

This is not the way to do it. This is not the way to protect the homeland. This is not the way to pat police officers on the back and then send them out there

without the resources and without their brothers and sisters fighting alongside of them to protect the United States of America.

Mr. Chairman, this is a very serious problem. We argue vociferously on this floor to protect the soldier in the field in foreign lands. I'm here today to support DeFazio, Weiner, and the rest of the folks who have talked on this, to defend our police officers on the street. We owe them no less. I ask you to restore this money, the money that has been taken away in this 7-month budget. I don't think it's fair, and I don't think it's wise.

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Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Chairman, as a former mayor, I have always believed that our Nation's first responders constitute both our first and our last line of defense for the American people. This continuing resolution before us today fails our first responders. Regrettably, we are treating these public safety officers as being non-security, discretionary spending and have subjected them to drastic cuts.

Real homeland security starts on our streets. We all remember on 9/11 when we were attacked on our own soil. It was our brave cops and firefighters who ran into the burning buildings. The Federal Government was not there. To say that funding our cops and firefighters is not national security spending is ludicrous. Our brave local police officers and firefighters who protect our streets day and night are the very essence of our national security.

Earlier in the process we debated the COPS Program. An amendment tonight restores critical funding for its counterpart, the FIRE Act and the SAFER Grant programs. The continuing resolution significantly reduces funding for the FIRE Act and eliminates all funding for SAFER grants, over $510 million in cuts in total. This would absolutely be devastating for our public safety professionals who rely on this funding for the equipment and personnel they need to protect our communities.

The FIRE and SAFER grants help local fire departments equip, train and maintain their personnel, preparing them to respond to all forms of an emergency. And things changed, didn't they, after 9/11? An independent evaluation of the FIRE program published by the U.S. Fire Administration concluded that it was highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the Nation.

I may add, Mr. Chairman, that the FIRE programs and the COPS programs are among the highest efficiency and most effective programs run by the Federal Government. The money goes directly to the communities, so States can't skim off the top. They are effective and they are competitive, and no one has challenged that in 10 years.

SAFER has been critical to many local departments who, as a result of recent economic downturns, have been forced to cut personnel and services.

What effect would cuts to these programs have? Let's go to the real world and not the video.

Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department in Coleman, Alabama, they used the FIRE grant to purchase personnel protective equipment which now allows them to enter a burning structure to search for victims and to extinguish the fires. Previously, the department did not have the proper equipment to do this. Today they have greatly reduced the amount of total-loss structures in their region.

North County Fire Protection District in Holbrooke, California, they were able to purchase emergency backup power generators. During the 2007 San Diego firestorms, power failed throughout the community early on the first day and was not completely restored in the community for 2 weeks. The emergency power generators they purchased with their FIRE grant allowed them to keep all of the facilities fully functional.

Before the Belle Chasse Volunteer Fire Department in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, received a SAFER grant in 2008, the department could not comply with the National Fire Protection Association standards. There is such a thing. Before we cut something, we should know what the alternatives are. Its initial alarm assignment capability was only 20 percent in that time. That insufficient level of service put the communities and the volunteer firefighters at considerable risk for injury or even the loss of life.

Thanks to a SAFER grant, the department was able to hire 45 firefighters, increase the rate of compliance, and it is now estimated that the compliance is 90 percent and they have increased their initial alarm dispatch with three more engine companies.

The Acting CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.

(By unanimous consent, Mr. Pascrell was allowed to proceed for 1 additional minute.)

Mr. PASCRELL. Together, FIRE and SAFER grants have provided over $7 billion in firefighter jobs, equipment and training for local fire departments. It is serious business. We are talking life and limb, and we are talking about property here. To me, cutting these critical programs is wrong, especially when local fire department budgets are already strained. We are facing it in all of our districts. You know that.

My amendment restores the funding for FIRE and SAFER to their fiscal 2010 amounts: $390 million for FIRE, $420 million for SAFER. Because of the rule, we are forced to reluctantly take funding from DHS Science and Technology. If this amendment passes, I hope we can restore some of the funding during conference.

I hope that both sides will come together on this. It has bipartisan support. We need to protect our firefighters.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PASCRELL. To zero out one of the most effective and efficient programs in the Federal Government--and all objective observers have come to that conclusion. And yes, we do have to cut. That's why we're here. But we don't have to cut what is an essential service when we know what the results of this legislation have brought. I have been on Homeland Security from day one. I think I know it. But that's beside the point.

Today, we know what the results have been of this legislation. So, for the 2,400 firefighters right off that bat that would be laid off, because this is a 3-year plan, there's certain matches that have to go into it. Those matches have been reduced so that other local communities can get involved.

When we see what happens with many Federal programs that go through States and never wind up to do what they have to do, this stands out above everything else. It is not enough for us to pat firefighters on the back, to bring our grandkids to get up on the fire engines when we are pulling the rug out from under them.

When this passed 10 years ago, there were fire companies throughout the United States that had to push their equipment to the fire. We are here at 1 o'clock in the morning questioning that this is not a priority of

ours and we can't afford this right now. I can tell you what we can't afford. We can't afford other things in other places, but we need to protect our first responders. If we meant what we said on 9/12/2001, then we need to do something right now to protect them.

This is a visceral subject, there's no question about it. I have not heard one argument where this legislation has let us down one iota. In fact, it has delivered what it said it was going to deliver.

Whether you be volunteers or career firefighters, you are assisted by the SAFER bill, and we made it that way. When you look at the FIRE Act itself, that act went to all the small departments. In fact, we skewed it. The first 2 years of the program was to go to smaller fire departments, not to big cities, and we followed through on that.

Do you know how these applications are evaluated? They're evaluated by peers. It costs us very little to do it. That's why it's efficient as well as an effective program. We should all belong to the Police Caucus and the Fire Caucus. They don't need our pats on the back. They don't need our words of inspiration. What they need is some help to put enough people out there.

These are people's lives we're talking about. How dare we even consider. You talk about 6 years ago. The conditions of our municipalities large and small are quite different now than they were 6 years ago. They're laying off cops and firefighters.

Someone mentioned when we were discussing the COPS program earlier this evening--last night--they were talking about what happened in Camden, New Jersey. They're laying off half the fire department and half the police department. Don't we have some responsibility in this?

And, by the way, that part of Homeland Security which protects the Nation and protects them through our first responders, since they're the fire people there, God knows, when a catastrophe occurs, what, are we putting the brakes on that? Are we going out on recess? These are the line between us and perhaps disaster. We cannot.

Much of the equipment that was bought in the FIRE Act, competitive bidding, much of that equipment saved lives already. Most of the firefighters--all of the firefighters--who were hired, because we wanted to give someone in every town some edge when they were down below the ranks that they should have, those firefighters save lives.

Mr. Chairman, we need bipartisan support on this amendment. It is good for America, and it works. No one has questioned that this evening.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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