DHS Funded Until End of February; Funds Included for Wildland Fire and Hazmat Response Training
Legislation funding most of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year was passed on December 13. The appropriations bill provides more than $1 trillion and funds all federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year except for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is funded through the end of February.
On December 4 the NVFC joined with other national fire service organizations in calling on Congress to approve year-long spending for DHS, which includes FEMA and programs like the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, and the United States Fire Administration. Funding agencies through temporary spending measures creates uncertainties and delays. The AFG and SAFER application periods are currently running eight to nine months behind schedule as a result of past delays in Congress passing appropriations.
The bill includes $13 million for the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program, the same as in FY 2014. VFA provides 50/50 matching grants to volunteer fire departments protecting communities with 10,000 or fewer residents to help purchase equipment and training related to wildland fire suppression. The bill also provides $1.4 billion for federal wildland fire suppression activities, consistent with the average expenditure level over the past ten years.
The bill also reprograms approximately $3.5 million in unspent Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness (HMEP) grant funds from a previous fiscal year to be spent on “develop[ing] a hazardous materials response training curriculum for emergency responders, including response activities for the transportation of crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids by rail, consistent with NFPA standards, and to make such training available through an electronic format.” This bill language, which the NVFC supported, ensures that funds which were going to go unspent will instead be used to develop web-based hazmat emergency response training.