In one of the first acts of the 110th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007. The bill would codify various recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report, including establishing a formula for distributing DHS anti-terrorism grants and establishing a grant program for emergency response communications.
Funds from DHS anti-terror grant programs like the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) are partially distributed based on assessed risk. Regardless of assessed risk, each state is guaranteed to receive a certain percentage of the overall level of funding. H.R. 1 would guarantee each state .25 percent of grant funds available in a given year, or .45 percent for states with an international border to protect. In the past, these percentages have been determined on a year-by-year basis.
Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and SAFER Grant program funds were not included in the new funding formula. These programs have traditionally provided funds directly to first responders to address basic needs, whereas most DHS grants are awarded to states and focus on fighting terrorism. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) opposes modifying AFG and/or SAFER to make them more like DHS anti-terror grants.
H.R. 1 would also create the Improve Communications for Emergency Response (ICER) Grant Program to make grants to states and regions to improve interoperable communications. Grants would be used to assist with statewide or regional communications planning, developing new interoperable emergency communications systems, purchasing new equipment, conducting exercises including modeling and simulation for command and control functions, and technical assistance and training.
H.R. 1 now goes to the Senate, which is expected to take action on it in coming weeks. While recognizing that there are many provisions in H.R. 1 that will have a significant impact on volunteer first responders, the NVFC has not yet taken a position on the bill.