The 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner will be held on April 16: just a month and a half from now. This year is an especially good time to attend.
For the first time since 2006, the Republicans control both the House and the Senate. There are a large number of new senators and representatives who need to be educated about the fire and emergency service.
More importantly, Congress will be considering legislation this year that will affect you and your department. Here are the relevant issues you can discuss with your senators and representatives while you're in Washington this April.
Funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program and U.S. Fire Administration
President Obama has released his fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget proposal. Now the House and Senate will start working on their FY 2016 appropriations bills in order to pass them before September 30.
For FY 2016, President Obama proposes cutting the FIRE and SAFER Grant programs by $5 million each: to $335 million for each program. Meanwhile, he also proposes cutting the U.S. Fire Administration from $44 million to $41.582 million—a 5.5% cut.
The IAFC is concerned about these proposed cuts. For the FIRE and SAFER grants, we're arguing that Congress should restore funding for each program to the FY 2011 level of $405 million for each program.
We're also urging Congress to protect the U.S. Fire Administration and National Fire Academy from any cuts and to and restore its funding to the FY 2011 level of $45.588 million.
Both Congress and President Obama agree that the nation’s tax code must be reformed. Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are starting to work on tax legislation.
The IAFC is urging Congress to include the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Reauthorization Act, which would protect state and local incentives for volunteer fire departments from federal taxation.
In addition, we're asking Congress to include legislation to provide a tax incentive for small business owners that retrofit their buildings with automatic fire sprinkler systems.
See Making Cents: How Tax Reform Could Impact the Fire Service for more information on this issue.
Medicare Add-On Payments
On April 1, the add-on payments for the ambulance transport of Medicare patients expire. The current add-on payments are 2% for urban, 3% for rural and 22.6% for super-rural areas. The authorization for these add-on payments historically is tied to the larger doc fix that prevents cuts to Medicare payments for doctors. Congress will have to pass new doc fix legislation by April 1.
The IAFC supports legislation (H.R. 745/S. 377) by Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) that would permanently extend these add-on payments.
See Patching Patients and Ambulance Payments for more information on this issue.
The current authorization for the Highway Trust Fund expires on May 31. This deadline forces Congress to pass legislation that will authorize spending to upgrade and maintain the nation’s surface transportation system.
The IAFC is concerned that local fire departments are still not receiving the necessary training to respond to rail incidents involving crude oil and other hazardous materials.
Specifically, we are recommending that Congress authorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to look at innovative new ways to train local fire departments to respond to hazmat incidents in their jurisdictions.
Watch for a story in the next issue of On Scene to specifically address this concern.
Still Time to Register
You still have time to register for the 27th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner. Please use this dinner as an opportunity to meet your new senator and representative.
If your federal legislators have been around for a while, please stop by and update them about what’s new at your fire department. In early April, the IAFC will have information available for you to download and use at your meetings.
See you in April!