Congressional Committee Approves $750M for Fire Act

WASHINGTON -- A Congressional conference committee today approved $750 million for the Assistance to Firefighters grants program for 2003-2004, more than twice the amount appropriated in the last round of funding. The House and Senate must both approve the bill before going to the President for signature into law.

Officials at FEMA said late Thursday that the appropriations -- part of a massive funding bill -- could clear the House of Representatives by Thursday night and through the Senate Friday.

The application period for the funding is currently slated to begin March 3rd and run through April 4th, although dates may be subject to change due to the unique funding timeline for this federal government fiscal year, the International Association of Fire Chiefs reported.

As with years past, once the funding is formally approved and signed off on by President Bush, FEMA will then issue the program's rules in the Federal Register on how the program will be administered.

FEMA officials said the wording of the Fire Act appropriation calls for the funds to be expended between now and September, 2004. It was yet to be determined precisely when the funds would be available and what the timetable for distribution would be.

In the most recent round of funding, FEMA officials had a total of $360 million to distribute, less administration costs. The first $150 million was turned out by the close of Fiscal 2002 last September, and the balance distributed through January of this year. Since the funds tentatively could be more than double that amount, and thus possibly twice as many approved departments, it could be a longer award process, officials said.

As Congress wraps up the fiscal year 2003 process they already have begun looking at the figures for fiscal year 2004, which begins Oct. 1, 2003. On Monday, Feb. 3, 2003, President Bush submitted the administration