The Obama Administration recently released its fiscal year 2010 budget, and as in the past, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program is funded nowhere near the level of need. The Administration proposed only $170 million for the FIRE Act grants — a 70% reduction from fiscal year 2009. On...
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The Obama Administration recently released its fiscal year 2010 budget, and as in the past, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program is funded nowhere near the level of need. The Administration proposed only $170 million for the FIRE Act grants — a 70% reduction from fiscal year 2009. On a positive note, the Administration seeks to double the funding for SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants at $420 million. These two figures combined amount to $590 million compared to the $775 million total appropriation in fiscal year 2009, an overall reduction of $185 million in total AFG Program funding. This means that members throughout the fire service, as well as other stakeholders, have some very important and difficult work to do again, but they have been in this situation before and should be up to the challenge.
Why It's Important
It's important to remember that the Administration's proposed budget is just that, a proposal. In fact, the previous Administration's fiscal year 2009 budget proposal for the AFG Program was only $300 million — $0 for SAFER and $300 million for FIRE), yet through a lot of effort on the part of the fire service and support from Congress, the final fiscal year 2009 appropriation for the AFG Program was $775 million. The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), along with 10 other fire service organizations, sent a letter on May 22, 2009, to the chairmen and ranking members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security who are working on the fiscal year 2010 AFG appropriation. The letter acknowledged that our nation is in a very difficult economic situation, and that it's affecting our fire departments significantly. In that light, the organizations requested that SAFER be funded at $420 million and FIRE be funded at $565 million for fiscal year 2010.
This fire service organizations' proposal to the appropriators was important for several reasons. First, it acknowledged and was respectful of the current national economic crisis, and therefore, didn't request AFG funding at the program's authorized level, which combined (SAFER and FIRE) totals approximately $2 billion.
Second, it supported the Administration's significant increase in funding for SAFER ($420 million), which addresses very important needs. Many fire departments have performed with dangerously low levels of staffing on fire companies for several years. Decisions that result in understaffing of fire companies and less-than-efficient deployment models, whether for economic or other reasons, compromise public safety and firefighter safety. This increase in SAFER would provide some financial relief to fire departments and could slow the downward staffing and deployment spiral they face.
Finally, it requested maintaining the fiscal year 2009 level of funding for FIRE. Whether the money is used for equipment, apparatus, safety or training, the FIRE grants continue to address unmet emergency response needs of the nation's fire departments.
In addition to these areas, the critical fire prevention and public fire and life- safety education funding provided through the FIRE grants would be maintained at fiscal year 2009 levels. FIRE grants are important to overall public safety and firefighter safety, and the areas of need that have been supplemented by FIRE grant funding have recently taken crippling budget hits at the local level. Funding FIRE at anything less than the fiscal year 2009 level ($575 million) would harm the program's effectiveness.