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The 113th Congress and the Fire Service: What You Need to Know Now

Despite all the political partisanship, last year was actually a pretty good year for the fire and emergency services.

Congress allocated the 10 MHz of the D Block and $7 billion to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to build a nationwide public-safety broadband network. At the end of the year, Congress also voted to make necessary changes to the FIRE and SAFER Grant programs, as it reauthorized the programs through fiscal year (FY) 2017. In addition, Congress voted to reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) through FY 2017.

One of this year's challenges will be to fund federal fire service programs adequately. Overall, Congress tried to protect many of our programs, but they were still affected by the $85 billion sequester that took effect in March.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, nondefense discretionary programs were cut by 5%. For example, the USFA was cut by $2 million. The sequester cut the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) state and local grant programs (including the FIRE, SAFER and Urban Areas Security Initiative [UASI] programs) by $104 million. The Forest Service was cut by $125 million, and the Department of Interior's wildland-fire management account was cut by $38 million.

In addition, the sequestration will cut Medicare reimbursements by 2%. The sequestration didn't affect any FIRE, SAFER or Fire Prevention and Safety grants awarded in FY 2012 funding or earlier.

In March, Congress passed the FY 2013 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-6). This legislation funds the federal government through September 30 and includes specific funding levels for DHS programs. The legislation didn't replace the sequester and added a 0.10% across-the-board cut (called a "rescission") to all programs at DHS.

With the 5% sequester and the rescission accounted for, here's what the FY 2013 appropriation levels look like for the federal fire service programs, as compared to last year's funding:

In Millions ($)
Program FY 2012 FY 2013
U.S. Fire Administration 44 42
FIRE Grant Program 337.5 320
SAFER Grant Program 337.5 320
State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) 294   * 329
Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) 490   * 475
Urban Search and Rescue 41 33
DOI Wildland Fire 566 688
USFS Wildland Fire 1,738 1,846
* For FY 2012, Congress created a $1.35 billion pool for all of the Homeland Security grant programs and directed that the funding be distributed according to threat, vulnerability and consequence. These funding levels are the final allocations from DHS.

In order to protect some of the funding for the FIRE, SAFER and Homeland Security grant programs, Congress directed DHS to fund the administrative costs of these programs from FEMA's Salaries and Expenses account. The law also extends the existing waivers to the requirements of the SAFER Grant program. Now that the funding for the grant programs has been finalized, SAFER's application period is expected to open in spring, FIRE's is expected to open in summer and the FP&S period is expected to open in the fall/winter timeframe.

The IAFC will continue to try to protect the funding levels for our programs in FY 2014. For example, we'll advocate that Congress appropriate the FY 2012 funding levels of $44 million for USFA and $337.5 million each for the FIRE and SAFER Grant programs in FY 2014.

One issue that may arise with the president's budget is an attempt to consolidate all of FEMA's Homeland Security grant programs into one National Preparedness Grant (NPG) program. For FY 2013, the Administration proposed consolidating the 16 Homeland Security grant programs (but not the FIRE and SAFER programs) into a single $1.541 billion program that would be managed by the states using FEMA-directed risk assessments. For FY 2014, the president is proposing a similar approach.

IAFC President and Chairman of the Board Hank Clemmensen testified before Congress last year expressing our concern about this proposal. The IAFC believes it's important that local fire departments, which are first on-scene in a terrorist attack, are involved in how this funding is allocated and that at least 80% of the Homeland Security grant funds should go to local first responders.

Congress agreed with the IAFC and included a provision in P.L. 113-6 that would prohibit DHS from implementing its NPG proposal. Instead, the law set specific funding levels for the SHSGP and UASI grant programs. It also authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security to allocate approximately $179 million between DHS' Homeland Security grant programs, including the UASI, SHSGP, Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant program, Metropolitan Medical Response System and Citizen Corps based on threat, vulnerability and risk assessments. Congress also recommended setting a maximum of 25 regions for the UASI program.

In addition to fighting for funding for our programs on Capitol Hill, the IAFC continues to be engaged in the establishment of FirstNet as it begins work on the public-safety broadband network. As Congress begins to consider the issue of tax reform, the IAFC also is actively engaged in support of legislation to promote the retrofit of fire sprinklers and reduce the burden of the federal tax code for volunteer fire departments. The IAFC continues to work with the federal government on some important initiatives to improve the fire and emergency service's response to the nation's growing problem with wildland fires.

It will be a busy year in Congress, so please use the 25th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner on May 9 as an excuse to visit Washington and meet with your senators and representatives. If you can't make it to Washington this year, please meet with your members of Congress and their staff at home. As the federal budget starts to shrink, we must all work together to protect our programs.

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