Congressional Update: Congress Considers Funding for DHS Programs

As Congress gets ready to go home for the summer recess, it has some important decisions to make in September. In the spring and early summer, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees both reported out bills to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2016. However, neither chamber was able to pass their bills.

Overall, the bills protect funding for programs like the FIRE and SAFER Grant programs and the USFA. However, an amendment was added to the House bill that may create serious complications for some of FEMA’s terrorism-preparedness programs.

As your representatives and senators return home for the August break, it’s vital that you educate them about the importance of maintaining funding for federal programs that support the fire and emergency service.

On February 2, President Obama released his FY 2016 budget; the House and Senate Appropriations Committees then went to work on their bills. The Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its bill on June 16 and on July 14 the House Appropriations Committee marked up its bill. In general, these bills protected fire and emergency service programs from cuts.

Here’s how the funding situation looked:

In Millions ($)
FY 2015

FY 2016
(President’s Budget)

FY 2016
(H.R. 3128)
FY 2016
(S. 1619)
USFA 44 41.582 44 44
FIRE 340 335 340 340
SAFER 340 335 340 340
SHSGP 467 * 467 467
UASI 600 * 600 600
US&R 35.18 27.513 35.18 35.18

*The Obama Administration again proposed consolidating FEMA’s homeland-security grants, including the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) and the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) into an approximately $1 billion National Preparedness Grant Program. This proposal was opposed again by the IAFC and other organizations representing local governments and first responders. Neither the House nor the Senate Appropriations Committee approved this proposal.

During its July 14 markup, the House Appropriations Committee agreed to provisions that are causing concern.

First, it accepted an amendment by Representative Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) that would prohibit sanctuary cities from receiving FEMA’s homeland security grants. Sanctuary cities are ones that don’t enforce or only conditionally enforce federal immigration-detention orders. Many of the sanctuary cities, such as New York, Washington, Boston and Los Angeles, receive funds under the UASI program and have been the site of major terrorist attacks or the target of such plots.

The IAFC has serious concerns that the Yoder amendment could affect fire and emergency services in many metropolitan areas. For example, UASI funds are used by fire departments to fund public-safety communications, medical preparedness and emergency-response planning, fusion-center staffing and other activities. The Yoder amendment would prevent many metropolitan areas from receiving UASI funds and stop funding for these homeland-security activities.

Both the House and Senate DHS appropriations bills ran into controversy.

In the Senate, democrats supported President Obama’s request to remove the current spending caps on defense and domestic spending. They threatened a filibuster against any FY 2016 appropriations bill that was consistent with the existing caps.

In the House, a dispute over the display of the Confederate flag on federal lands, including cemeteries, derailed the FY 2016 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill. The House didn’t call up any other appropriations bills for consideration after that controversy.

During the August recess, IAFC members are encouraged to meet with their members of Congress to discuss the importance of funding DHS programs. Senators and representatives need to know how FIRE and SAFER grants help protect their communities and the importance of the National Fire Academy for educating future leaders of the fire and emergency service.

Members from metropolitan areas that are sanctuary cities should let their members of Congress know how a prohibition on UASI funding will affect their terrorism-preparedness operations.

The IAFC Hot Sheet and IAFC Issues Discussion are available with updated information on legislative issues.

At this point, President Obama and the republicans and democrats in Congress must negotiate a way to keep the federal government open. President Obama and the democrats would like to remove the existing statutory caps on domestic and defense spending, while the republicans have defended the caps so far.

In addition, the republican-controlled House and Senate will have to restrain themselves from including controversial provisions on the FY 2016 appropriations bills that would result in a veto by President Obama.

It remains to be seen if an agreement can be reached to fund the federal government before October 1.

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