The end of the year is often a busy time in Congress as lawmakers work to tie up loose ends before leaving Washington for the holidays. This year, unfortunately, the House and Senate failed to take action on several pieces of pending legislation that would have benefited the volunteer fire and emergency services tremendously, a piece from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) says.
On Tuesday, December 21, the House of Representatives voted to approve appropriations legislation that had previously passed the Senate funding the federal government through March 4 at FY 2010 levels. The bill, commonly referred to as a continuing resolution, keeps the government running but does not establish FY 2011 funding levels for federal agencies or programs. That task will fall to the 112th Congress, which will convene in January.
The NVFC has advocated for passage of FY 2011 Homeland Security Appropriations legislation providing $420 million each for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program. This would represent an increase of $30 million over the FY 2010 level for AFG and flat funding for SAFER. The President requested $305 million each for AFG and SAFER.
The House passed legislation earlier this year funding AFG and SAFER at the level requested by the NVFC. On December 16, omnibus appropriations legislation that would have funded the entire federal government through FY 2011 and provided $420 million respectively for AFG and SAFER was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate and failed to garner enough votes to end debate and force a vote. The Senate voted to approve the continuing resolution after it became clear that the votes to pass the omnibus were not there. The NVFC will continue to work with House and Senate Appropriators and our allies in Congress to obtain adequate funding for AFG and SAFER for FY 2011 when the 112th Congress convenes.
Legislation reauthorizing AFG and SAFER also failed to gain passage in the 111th Congress. The House of Representatives passed legislation supported by the NVFC in November 2009 reauthorizing both programs. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved similar reauthorization legislation in July but it was never taken up by the full Senate. Passage of AFG and SAFER reauthorization legislation will be one of the NVFC’s top priorities next year.
Congress also failed to pass legislation extending the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA), which exempts certain benefits that volunteer emergency responders receive as recruitment and retention incentives from income taxation. Legislation extending various tax provisions, including a series of income tax reductions that were originally enacted during George W. Bush’s first Presidential term in office, passed the House and Senate and was signed into law on December 17.
The final tax bill language was based on the terms of an agreement that President Obama reached with Congressional Republicans extending certain expiring tax provisions. Expiring provisions that had not been previously extended by Congress were not included in the agreement. VRIPA, which was enacted in 2007 and is set to expire at the end of this year, fell into this category and as a result was not included in the final bill. The NVFC will continue to work with the House and Senate sponsors of VRIPA and the Committees of jurisdiction next year to extend VRIPA with a goal of making the extension retroactive to the beginning of 2011.