The House passed H.R. 240, the Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, bringing an end to a lengthy battle between Congress and the White House that threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security. Included in the spending bill is funding for a number of programs of importance for the nation’s fire and emergency services. The Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs are funded at $340 million each. This is the same amount as in Fiscal Year 2014. The bill also includes $44 million for the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and $35.18 million for the Urban Search and Rescue System, the same amounts as in Fiscal Year 2014.
The fate of the funding bill had been in question as House and Senate leadership found themselves at odds with the White House over an executive order President Obama had issued on immigration. The department had been operating under a continuing resolution which was set to expire on February 27th. On January 9th, the House approved H.R. 240, but included language in the bill blocking the executive order from being enacted. The Senate passed an amended version on February 27th that removed the House immigration language. With the two chambers at an impasse just hours before a temporary shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, Congress approved a one-week extension of the continuing resolution to give lawmakers more time to reach a compromise. The House ultimately approved the Senate version of the bill.
Unfortunately, Senate leadership used H.R. 33, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, as a legislative vehicle to move the one-week continuing resolution through the Senate. Unanimously approved in the House by a vote of 401-0 on January 12th, the bill in its original form ensured that volunteer fire departments would not be required to provide health insurance to their members under the employer shared responsibility provisions (“employer mandate”) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). However, when the Senate amended the bill, they struck out the previous legislative language relating to volunteer fire departments and the PPACA. In response, Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11), the original sponsor of the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, reintroduced the legislation as H.R. 1191.
CFSI will continue to provide updates as the new bill, H.R. 1191, once again moves through Congress.