The President's proposed budget for 2006 calls for deep cuts to programs for first responders.
The budget calls for $500 million to fund the FIRE Act, down from the $650 million budgeted for 2005. This would be the second year in a row the program has been slashed; in 2004 the program was budgeted for $750 million.
"It makes no sense whatsoever," said New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell, author of the FIRE Act. He said Bush is following the same pattern as the past four years, of attempting to reduce support for first responders despite a need for basic equipment. He said requests from fire departments in 2004 totaled $2.5 billion.
"Every firefighter, from departments large and small, better understand that elections have consequences," Pascrell said. "This president couldn't care less about first responders."
In addition to cutting back the FIRE Act, the proposed budget eliminates funding for SAFER, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act. The program was intended to support the hiring of up to 75,000 firefighters over several years to help communities meet national standards for firefighter staffing.
The proposed cuts imply an attitude of, "To hell with the firefighters," Pascrell said. He said SAFER received support for $50 million in the House and for $65 million in the Senate, but none from the administration.
Pascrell applauded the firefighters who fought for these programs but warned that the rest of the fire service can't just take the "gain without the pain." They need to stand up for these programs, Pascrell said.
"This is not a Democratic/Republican issue," he said. "This is the security of our nation."
The IAFF called the budget proposal disappointing, especially in light of the Boston Globe's recent report on the decline in the nation's fire response.
"Both Republicans and Democrats have championed providing sufficient resources to the FIRE Act and SAFER, the program that provides funding to add fire fighters to local departments, since the programs were authorized," said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger in a prepared statement.
"Our hope is that we can work with members on both sides of the aisle in Congress to once again bring the funding for emergency preparedness in our nation's communities back to levels that begin to address the major shortages we see in more than two-thirds of the communities in America."
Congress will now take on President Bush's budget proposal and determine the final numbers. Each of the last few years Congress has exceeded the President's numbers in the final appropriation.
According to the USFA, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program posted today the initial schedule of applicant workshops for the 2005 grants. The application period is tentatively scheduled for March 7 to April 8.