Continuing in his fight for federal support of first responders through bipartisan solutions, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-8) today fought a proposal to cut by 57 percent two federal programs that have become vital to community fire department throughout the United States. The proposed cuts were included in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, H.R.2017.
This evening, the House passed with a vote of 333-87 an amendment to the bill proposed by Rep. Pascrell with U.S. Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-OH-14). The amendment restores funding for Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) programs to the President's budget requested levels, a total of $670 million split equally between the two programs. This is a 17 percent reduction from the fiscal year 2011 funding levels
In February, Congressman Pascrell successfully fought an attempt by the House Republican Leadership to cut AFG and SAFER funding for 2011 on the grounds that the programs were "non-security" discretionary spending.
"Earlier this year, Congress members, including 132 Republicans, supported my amendment to restore funding to after a cut of over $510 million to FIRE and SAFER was proposed," said Pascrell, an original member of the House Homeland Security Committee, on the House floor today. "We all came to understand that to undermine funding for our communities' public safety departments is to undermine our homeland security. We all understand the financial realities that this country faces. But we cannot afford to sacrifice our country's security at the altar of spending cuts. I'm prepared to work across the aisle to find common solutions that bring down our debt in a fair and balanced way."
Since their inception, the AFG and SAFER grant programs, both originally sponsored by Rep. Pascrell, have provided more than $7 billion for our local communities towards equipment, training and staffing of our firefighters.
The AFG program makes direct grants to fire departments to purchase equipment, training, firefighting vehicles, and other fire fighting and fire prevention activities. It also funds Fire Prevention and Safety Grants which are used for fire awareness and prevention activities, as well as fire safety related research.
The SAFER program, which makes grants to local fire departments to assist in the hiring of firefighters, will receive up to $1.194 billion per fiscal year from 2010 to 2014 through the authorization bill. The bill provides an economic hardship waiver for the SAFER program as well, which also allows fire departments to retain and rehire firefighters in the face of economic pressures to downsize.
An independent evaluation of the FIRE program published by the US Fire Administration concluded that it was "highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the nation."
Both the AFG and SAFER have been reauthorized through fiscal year 2014.