(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Technology and Innovation Subcommittee held a markup to advance H.R. 3791, The Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009. The bill passed by voice vote and was reported favorably. A Full Committee markup is planned for Wednesday, October 21.
“The programs in this legislation provide critical resources to fire departments across the country,” stated Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR). “At a time when many cities and towns are facing major budget shortfalls and cuts in services, federal support to fire departments is crucial to public safety.”
“This bill helps ensure that our firefighters have the tools and resources they need to prevent and fight fires and keep us safe,” said Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), author of the legislation. “It will provide support to firefighters in stations and houses throughout the nation from large cities to small towns. While we can never thank our firefighters enough, we can work to ensure that they are equipped and prepared for their lifesaving work.”
The FIRE Grants program is composed of the Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program. The AFG program was created by Congress in 2000 because of concerns that local budgets were unable to handle the mounting responsibilities being assigned to the fire service; it provides funds to local fire departments to purchase equipment, vehicles, and training. Congress created the SAFER program in 2004 to help fire departments hire firefighting personnel and meet voluntary national consensus standards on safe minimum staffing levels. Both the AFG and SAFER programs are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some changes to the program in the legislation make it easier for local fire departments to take advantage of AFG and SAFER funding. For instance, lowering the matching requirements for the AFG program and modifying the time and matching commitments for the SAFER program to make it easier for local communities to apply for the grants will allow more fire departments to access these funds.
The bill has the following provisions for the AFG program:
- It provides an authorization of $1 billion per fiscal year from FY2010 to FY2014.
- It apportions the total AFG funding as follows: Sets aside 25 percent for career fire departments, 25 percent for combination departments, and 25 percent for volunteer fire departments. It further provides that 10 percent of the funds shall be used for Fire Prevention and Safety Grants, 2 percent shall be used for volunteer, non-fire service EMS and rescue organizations, 3 percent may be used for state fire training academies, and the remaining 10 percent shall be left for open competition to all types of fire departments for the traditional AFG grants.
- It sets reduces the matching requirements for applicants from jurisdictions of a population of 20,000 or more at 10 percent%. (Jurisdictions of less than 20,000 will continue to provide a 5 percent match.)
- It increases the maximum allowable grant size for AFG, such that:
o A population of 100,000 or less may receive up to $1,000,000;
o A population of 100,000 to 500,000 may receive up to $2,000,000;
o A population of 500,000 to 1,000,000 may receive up to $3,000,000;
o A population of 1,000,000 to 2,500,000 may receive up to $6,000,000; and
o A population of 2,500,000 or more may receive up to $9,000,000.
· It adds an economic hardship waiver for departments that are unable to reach the matching requirements or maintenance of budget requirements. Also, sets the maintenance of budget requirement at 80 percent or above the applicant’s previous two fiscal year budgets.
The bill sets the following provisions for the SAFER program:
- It provides an authorization of $1.194 billion per fiscal year from FY2010 to FY2014.
- It sets the grant at three years (with the requirement that the department retain the hire for the entire three-year grant period).
- It sets the matching requirements at 20 percent per year of the grant.
- It eliminates an artificial cap on the maximum allowable grant size per firefighter.
- It includes an economic hardship waiver for departments that are unable to meet the matching requirements or maintenance of budget requirements. It also provides waivers for requirements that departments use the fund to supplement, rather supplant, local funds, as well as the requirement that the funds be used to hire additional firefighters rather than retain existing personnel.
The Subcommittee also approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute from Subcommittee Chairman Wu and two amendments from Subcommittee Ranking Member Adrian Smith (R-NE).
The bill has a broad, bipartisan group of cosponsors and has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, theInternational Association of Fire Fighters, andtheNational Volunteer Fire Council.
“Both Ranking Member Smith and I have been working closely with all of the stakeholders to ensure that their needs and concerns are addressed,” said Wu. “This bill would not have been possible without the work and cooperation of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the National Fire Protection Association, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute. I am very pleased that everybody pulled together to ensure we have legislation that will benefit the constituents of every Member of Congress.”
The Committee held a hearing on the program on July 8, 2009.
For more information, visit the Committee’s website.