This is a really important year for you to contact your senators and representatives! Vital federal fire and EMS programs, like the FIRE and SAFER Grants programs, have to be reauthorized or they will expire.
Our number-one goal will be to reauthorize these two grant programs. The funding for these is authorized through September 30, 2017; if Congress doesn’t take any action, the programs will be eliminated in January 2018.
The IAFC is working to reauthorize the programs this year. Overall, the IAFC doesn’t want to make any major changes to either the FIRE or SAFER Grant programs. We would like Congress to reauthorize both programs for another five years and remove provisions to sunset the programs.
It’s important that you educate your members of congress about the importance of these programs. Some Washington organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation, say the programs are ineffective. They also say that only local governments should cover staffing, equipment and training for local fire departments. As a local fire chief, you’re in the best positon to counteract these arguments by explaining how FIRE and SAFER funding has improved your ability to protect your community.
Also, explain how your FIRE- or SAFER-funded equipment, training or staffing have been used for regional response or for an interstate mutual-aid deployment. Many members of Congress don’t realize that the fire and EMS assets that respond to major disasters are owned and staffed by local fire departments.
We also need to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration. It will be important to ensure that USFA has steady funding into the future so it can continue to run the National Fire Academy.
This year, Congress will be making two years of funding decisions. Last year, it never passed full-year appropriations bills for fiscal year 2017.
Currently, the federal government is funded by a continuing resolution through April 28, so it can administer existing programs like the National Fire Academy. But the FIRE and SAFER grant application periods will be delayed again because the federal government can’t issue new grants under a continuing resolution.
It’s important to weigh in on these funding decisions. For FY 2017, both the House and Senate are proposing $44 million for USFA, which is the same as last year. However, the Senate proposed cutting the FIRE and SAFER Grant programs by $5 million each to $340 million. The House still is proposing $345 million for each program.
If we want to maintain funding for these programs, we’ll have to be active in trying to protect them. The National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner is April 6, which makes it the best time to come to Washington and meet with Congress just as important funding decisions are being made.
As of yet, we haven’t seen President Trump’s proposal for the FY 2018 budget. However, he’s expected to propose cuts to many federal programs to reduce federal spending. As more information about the FY 2018 budget is announced, the IAFC will keep you involved in what is happening.
The IAFC is also involved in the discussion about how to repeal and replace or revise the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148). We’re lobbying Congress to renew the add-on payments that fire and EMS departments receive for the ambulance transport of Medicare patients.
In addition, we’re requesting that Congress define fire and EMS departments as being providers of ambulance services instead of the current designation as suppliers. This change will allow fire and EMS departments to receive more-comprehensive reimbursements for their expenses when providing service to their communities.
The IAFC is also gearing up for the tax-reform debate in Congress. We continue to lobby Congress to reinstate the exclusion created by the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA). The new VRIPA legislation would protect any property-tax abatements and up to $600 in other state and local benefits for volunteer firefighters from federal taxation.
As part of the corporate tax-reform debate, we’ll be asking Congress to give tax benefits to small- and medium-sized businesses that retrofit their properties with automatic fire sprinklers.
As Congress examines infrastructure spending, we continue to push for enhanced training to help fire departments respond to hazmat incidents. The infrastructure bill may fund more pipelines, roads, bridges and pipelines. The increased flow of hazardous materials highlights the needs for fire departments to be trained and have plans for responding to incidents along the nation’s roads, rails and pipelines.
Finally, we continue push for legislation to establish a national voluntary registry to examine the high prevalence of cancer in firefighters. Representatives Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) introduced legislation (H.R. 931) to establish a national registry of firefighters that would include their job history and their demographic and health information. The information in this registry would be compared to information in state cancer registries by medical researchers to examine the relationship between cancer and firefighters. The IAFC is asking House members to cosponsor and pass H.R. 931.
As you can see, it’s going to be a very busy legislative year. Now is the best time to come to Washington and attend the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on April 6. In addition, visit the IAFC Legislative Issues page to download the Hot Sheet and Issues Discussion before you meet with your senators and representatives.