Proposed Budget Increases SAFER, Cuts AFG and USFA

President Obama's proposed spending plan released Monday calls for an increase in SAFER grants, but cuts to the AFG program as well as the U.S. Fire Administration.

The proposed FY '12 budget sets aside $420M for SAFER; $250M for AFG and $42M for the USFA, a $3M reduction.

This information surfaces as fire service officials are lobbying the new Congress to fund the programs for FY '11 at the same level as 2010 -- $810M -- which they say should be divided evenly between AFG and SAFER.

The House is expected to discuss, and possibly vote on FY '11 funding later this week. The measure will then go to the Senate.

In a letter to Congress late last week, fire service organizations also urged lawmakers to extend waivers of grant requirements for SAFER recipients.

"The waivers implemented for the SAFER program have allowed a number of departments to avoid staffing reductions due to local budget shortfalls caused by the recession," the letter reads. "Unfortunately, local fire departments continue to experience significant staffing shortages which necessitate the extension of the SAFER waivers.

An estimated 7,100 firefighter jobs have been lost through layoffs or attrition or are currently threatened. Absent the waiver's extension, departments with a significant staffing need would be unable to utilize SAFER to restore or maintain safe staffing levels," the letter continued.

Without the waiver, municipalities would have to fulfill a myriad of budgetary requirements to be able to qualify for the funds, that they warned, "in the current economic environment, very few fire departments would be able to meet. As a result, public safety would be placed at significant risk."

Officials also noted that the grants help fire and emergency services maintain their preparedness. The program is successful, they pointed out, because the individual departments are awarded the money - not jurisdictions - so there is no delay, and they can purchase what they need to address specific issues.

"The types of equipment, training and other uses of these funds enable fire departments to respond to all emergencies, including both man-made and natural disasters," they wrote.

The firefighters added: As you continue developing legislation to fund these grant programs for FY 2011, we urge you to consider our recommendations to ensure that our nation's first responders can continue to safely and effectively protect and serve their communities in these tough budgetary times."

The letter was signed by the Congressional Fire Services Institute, Fire Apparatus Manufacturers' Association, Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association, International Association of Arson Investigators, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Fire Service Training Association, International Society of Fire Service Instructors, National Fire Protection Association, National Volunteer Fire Council, and North American Fire Training Directors.