The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2002 will include $100 million for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program [grants that were made available through the Fire Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act], according to Joe M. Allbaugh, FEMA director. Allbaugh made the announcement at a meeting with leaders of the major fire service organizations. The grant program was inaugurated in the FY 2001 budget. Total grant program funding ($300 million) for the FY 2002 budget originally had been cut in the Bush Administration�s proposed budget plan. The proposed $100 million FY 2002 funding must be approved by Congress.
Referring to himself as a strong advocate for the fire service, Allbaugh said that he had requested that President Bush appoint him as the FEMA director. Continuing the grant program, Allbaugh said, �acknowledges the fire service community�s important role as our nation�s first responders to disasters.� Over the next few months, Allbaugh said he plans to meet with national fire service organizations and first responders.
Republican members of Congress, led by Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), a former volunteer fire chief and founder of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, had met with Bush Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mitch Daniels to discuss funding for the firefighter assistance grant program. Congressional supporters of the fire service were troubled by the fact that the Bush Administration�s proposed budget for FY 2002 did not include funding for this newly established program. Other congressional fire service supporters present at the meeting with President Bush were Representatives Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), Fire Caucus co-chair; Robert Aderholt (R-AL); Howard Coble (R-NC); Jo Ann Davis (R-VA); Robin Hayes (R-NC); Nancy Johnson (R-CT); Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ); Todd Platts (R-PA); Nick Smith (R-MI); and Greg Walden (R-OR).
Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., (D-NJ), author of the FIRE Act, in a press release in February, called the massive cuts the President proposed for public safety programs �totally unacceptable� and a �recipe for disaster.� He said the President would have to �answer to the hundreds of thousands of firefighters across the nation for his decision to kill this most worthy program� and that the program had �overwhelming bipartisan support.�
The fires service has been mobilizing to address this issue in a concerted manner. The news that the entire FY 2002 FIRE grant appropriation had been cut from the President�s originally proposed budget broke at the FDIC in Indianapolis. Thousands of attendees signed petitions asking the President to restore the funds. Numerous firefighters took petition forms back to their departments for signatures and forwarding to the President. Subsequently, there has been dialogue between the fire service and FEMA Director Allbaugh, who has advised of the restoration of $100 million to the budget.
Meanwhile, some fire service members and organizations are pushing for restoration of the entire $300 million. On March 4, 2001, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counties (NACo) adopted a resolution supporting $300 million in funding for the FEMA FIRE grant program in FY 2002. The NACo is encouraging state, county, and municipal officials to contact their representatives in Congress to express their strong support for the grant program.