SAFER, AFG, USFA Will Suffer if Sequester Ax Falls

Grants that provide vital funding for staffing and equipment for the nation’s fire and rescue personnel could be in serious jeopardy depending on what Congress does next week.

For FY ‘13, the cuts would likely mean a 8.2 percent reduction for non-entitlement federal programs and agencies, potentially including AFG, SAFER and the USFA.

“If Congress cannot come to an agreement and the cuts go forward as envisioned under current law, non-defense and defense discretionary programs would be cut by $550B each over the next 10 years,”  said David Finger, government liaison for the NVFC.

Finger said responders should be letting their elected officials know what the budget cuts would mean for their departments.

With responders and police officers standing behind him, President Obama said earlier this week that if Congress lets the ax fall it will cause widespread harm.

“Emergency responders like the ones who are here today -- their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded.  Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced.  FBI agents will be furloughed.  Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go.  Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.  Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off.  Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings…”

Rather than wait to see if the sequester occurs, the NVFC and other fire service organizations have asked Congress to fund the programs at the same level as last year -- $675M – which would be divided evenly between the two.

“The FIRE and SAFER grant programs are imperative to addressing the needs of more than one million fire and emergency services personnel, while providing an economic stimulus to American businesses,” they wrote in the letter earlier this month.

Officials went on to explain the hardships faced by responders as they provide valuable services to their communities.

“As the nation’s economic challenges continue, local fire departments – both career and volunteer – are forced to cut services and staffing, placing local communities at greater risk.  In addition, departments are forced to postpone purchasing equipment, apparatus, and training and education programs that would otherwise enhance capabilities by bringing their departments into compliance with national voluntary consensus standards.  The FIRE and SAFER grant programs provide the means to enhance preparedness and response capabilities nationwide to all types of hazards. These capabilities are squarely in the federal interest and justify continued federal investments.”

Finger said in the letter they also tried to educate legislators about the mission of the USFA, and why it needs to be maintained at the same level as last year.

“Each year, it provides training to approximately one million fire and emergency service personnel through the National Fire Academy (NFA).  It also collects important data and conducts research to reduce the threat of fire and other dangers in local communities.  Unfortunately, the President’s FY 2013 budget proposes $42.5 million for USFA, a $1.5 million decrease from the FY 2012 enacted level…”

If the proposed cuts go through, a number of programs are in serious jeopardy, Finger said.

In the letter, fire officials stressed the importance of the work that the USFA does to enhance the education and safety of the nation’s responders.

“Over the past decade, USFA’s budget has been reduced by 25% percent.  This trend needs to stop…”

Fire officials also asked for continued monetary support for the urban search and rescue system.

“As the nation’s only self-sufficient, all-hazards, ready-response force, US&R serves as a significant program essential to our nation’s homeland security.  Given its crucial importance, we are extremely concerned with the Administration’s proposed $13.7 million cuts that will reduce program funding to a scant $27.513 million…”

Finger said officials hope that legislators understand the ramifications of the budget cuts on fire and rescue companies.

In addition to the NVFC, other the organizations signing the letter were 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 Association of State Fire Marshals, National Fire Protection Association, North American Fire Training Directors.