Last year the IAFC scored a number of legislative accomplishments. For example, Congress reauthorized funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and SAFER grant programs and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) in December.
The December passage of the tax reform bill also included provisions to give tax incentives to small business owners that would like to retrofit their commercial buildings with fire sprinklers.
In January, all 50 U.S. states, five U.S. territories, and Washington, D.C. opted into FirstNet allowing the rollout of the nationwide public safety broadband network. In February, Congress passed legislation to extend the add-on payments that fire departments receive with their reimbursement for transporting Medicare patients.
However, it’s important to point out that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Here’s the legislative agenda that you can use as you prepare to visit Washington and meet with your members of Congress for the 30th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.
Even though Congress reauthorized funding for the AFG and SAFER grant programs and the USFA, it still needs to fund these programs and the homeland security grant programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. In addition, Congress must decide how to fund these programs for FY 2019 before October 1.
Here’s how the funding situation currently looks.
||FY 2018 (President’s Budget)
||FY 2018 (H.R. 3354)
||FY 2018 (Senate)
||FY 2019 (President’s Request)
|* This amount includes $1.5 million in the FEMA Procurement, Construction and Improvement account for capital improvements to the National Emergency Training Center.
The IAFC will be working to increase funding for the U.S. Fire Administration in FY 2019 in order to see it funded at $50 million. This increase will help USFA improve classes and training at the National Fire Academy.
We’ll also continue to ask Congress to fund the AFG and SAFER Grant programs at the FY 2011 amount of $405 million. We also intend to restore funding for the Urban Search and Rescue program and protect funding for homeland security grant programs, like the Urban Areas Security Initiative and the State Homeland Security Grant Program.
Protect Public Safety Communications on the T-Band
When Congress established FirstNet, it also mandated that the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) auction public-safety spectrum in the T-Band (470-512 MHz) by February 2021. Local public-safety organizations that use T-Band spectrum would have to clear this spectrum within two years of the auction.
The problem with this requirement is that it would affect communications in 11 major metro areas, including New York City, the Washington, DC area, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. For example, the T-Band spectrum was used as the interoperable communications channel in Boston during the response to the Patriots’ Day bombing in 2013.
In addition, the cost of migrating these jurisdictions would be catastrophic ($5.9 billion), even though some jurisdictions would have no other spectrum to migrate to.
To resolve this issue, the IAFC and other affected organizations are asking Congress to repeal the requirement that this T-Band spectrum be auctioned.
Pass the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931/S. 382)
On September 12, the House passed the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931), but it has yet to pass the Senate. This legislation would establish a voluntary database of career and volunteer firefighters.
This information would be kept anonymous and would include demographic information, years in service, health information and other information that may help researchers determine the connection between firefighting and a higher risk for cancer. This data would be compared to data in state fire-cancer registries with the hope of helping to find ways to mitigate this deadly risk.
The IAFC will be urging the Senate to pass the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (either H.R. 931 or its Senate companion, S. 382) this year.
Pass the Volunteer Responder Incentive Act (H.R. 1550/S. 1238)
Even though Congress passed a tax-reform bill, it may continue to work on other tax-related legislation. The Volunteer Responder Incentive Act (H.R. 1550/S. 1238) would exempt, from federal taxation, any property tax benefits and up to $600 in any other state and local benefits that are given to local volunteer firefighters. The IAFC will be lobbying Congress to protect these important recruitment and retention benefits.
While we had a lot of success last year, there still remains more to do. You can keep informed about what’s happening at the IAFC’s legislative issues webpage. Please be sure to come to Washington on April 18 and 19, meet with your members of Congress personally about these important issues, then stay for the 30th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner.