Washington, D.C. – On July 22, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a $28.5 billion fiscal 2004 Homeland Security Appropriations bill (H.R. 2555) by a vote of 93 to 1. The bill provides $750 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, which is the same amount that was appropriated in FY 2003 and $250 million more than the President requested in his budget.
However, unlike the House version that passed on June 24, the Senate bill moves the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program out of the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and into the Office of Domestic Preparedness (ODP).
“Although the NVFC is very pleased that both Senate and House have provided a 50% increase over the President’s budget request for the program, we are very concerned that the Senate bill moves the FIRE Act grants out of the U.S. Fire Administration and into ODP, which is located in the Border and Transportation Security Directorate of Homeland Security,” said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. “I do not understand the benefit of moving a program aimed at equipping and training America’s firefighters out of the lead federal agency for the fire service and into a section of the department that exercises little, if any control, over federal fire programs.”
The Senate report language did advise that the program should be administered the same way, stating the grant program “is a well regarded and effective program” and recommended the continuation of the peer review process, and making grants directly to fire departments. The Senate language also stated that it believes that the program “should remain a separate grant program within the Department of Homeland Security, and not be combined with any other grant program.”
The House Bill’s report language stated that the program remain in the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (USFA/FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security in a separate appropriation, “so there is no doubt as to its importance, and to protect this program from being lost in the first responders grant programs.”
A conference of House and Senate Appropriators will meet after the August Congressional recess to work out differences in the bill before sending it to both houses for approval. The NVFC and the other fire service organizations in Washington will continue to work to ensure that the program continues to focus on basic fire department needs and is not rolled into ODP’s terrorism grant programs.
Other highlights of the Senate-passed bill:
Office for Domestic Preparedness – Total of $3.6 billion, including:
- $500 million for State and local law enforcement terrorism prevention grants;
- $750 million for high-threat urban area discretionary grants;
- $750 million for Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.
Emergency Preparedness and Response:
- $165 million for the Emergency Management Performance Grants