Obama’s Proposed Budget Both Gives and Takes Away from the Fire Service

Obama’s Proposed Budget Both Gives and Takes Away from the Fire Service

15 February 2012

published by http://firechief.com  

USA — There’s good news and bad news for the fire service, after President Obama released his $3.8 trillion FY 2013 budget request Monday. The president proposed cuts to several FIRE grants, while consolidating others. However, the budget includes $1 billion for immediate assistance to retain, rehire or hire firefighters — especially if they are U.S. military personnel returning home. It also allocates funds to support wildland firefighting and the build out of a nationwide, public-safety broadband network.

“The IAFC is working with Congress to protect funding for programs that support the fire service in this tight budget environment,” said Chief Al Gillespie, IAFC president and chairman, in a statement. “It is important that the federal government continues to focus funding on programs that will help the local fire department protect its citizens.”

FIRE grant funding in FY2013 will be cut by $2.5 million, to $335 million. A trend is emerging, said Dave Finger, NVFC director of government relations, as the federal government continues to reduce funding year after year. It’s a real concern, as Finger estimated a 10:1 ratio of applications received to grant dollars allocated.

“There’s certainly enough demand to fully fund both the AFG and SAFER programs under the FIRE grants,” Finger said. “The funding for these grants has been slowly eroding for the last six to seven years. It’s disappointing but not unexpected.”

The NVFC also is concerned about the proposed $1.518 million cut to the U.S. Fire Administration’s budget, to $42.52 million.

“USFA has pretty much been cut consistently ever since the agency was placed under DHS,” Finger said. “It is to the point where they are cutting into the bone marrow. There’s nothing left to cut.”

The FIRE grants and USFA budget cuts are the NVFC’s top concerns, Finger added.

Obama discussed employing jobless veterans in last month’s State of the Union address, so it’s no surprise that he included an incentive to hire returning military personnel. The budget sets aside $1 billion for a First Responder Stabilization Fund to provide “immediate assistance” for the retention, rehiring and hiring of firefighters, with preference given to those departments that focus on the recruitment of post-9/11 veterans for firefighter positions.

In addition, Obama proposed an increase of $191 million, to $1.54 billion, for the National Preparedness Grant program. This program’s allocations will be identified through the Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments program, which will establish baseline funding for each state and a competitive funding pool to build new assets and capabilities, specifically those focused on building and sustaining core capabilities identified in Presidential Preparedness Directive-8 .

However, Finger said that the NVFC is concerned that the National Preparedness Grant program consolidates 16 homeland security grant programs that continually have their funding cut, including UASI, into a single program. He said that state-awarded funds that are allocated downward also may get lost in the web of bureaucracy.

“We have yet to see how that will play out,” Finger said.

Perhaps because of the massive wildfires and wildland-urban-interface issues that erupted in 2011, the Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Management program would receive $1.97 billion, a $233 million increase from FY 2012. Meanwhile, the Department of Interior’s Wildland Fire Management program would receive $726.5 million, a $160 million increase.

The budget also fully funds the 10-year average cost of wildland fire suppression operations and proposes $315 million for the FLAME fund under the Department of Agriculture, and $92 million for the FLAME fund under the Department of Interior.

Funding for the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs–$55.5 million and $6.366 million, respectively — stays the same, with Rural Fire Assistance as an eligible expense under Wildland Fire Management.

Finally, the budget would support the much-anticipated construction of a nationwide, public-safety broadband network, including the allocation of the D Block to public safety, and $6.5 billion for the construction, operation and maintenance of the network. Finger noted there were still many unresolved issues. In addition, it was proposed in last year’s budget but wasn’t approved by Congress, so it passage this year may be unlikely.

“This could be resolved in the next month, or not resolved for another year,” Finger said. “It’s up to Congress to work something out so they can move forward [with the network].”

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