WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Peter King (R-NY), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Dave Reichert (R-WA), co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus, and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, announced introduction of the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017, which renews vital federal funding streams for local fire departments.
Each year more than one million fire and emergency services personnel respond to over 30 million emergency calls across the country. This bipartisan legislation would ensure that our over 30,000 fire departments continue to have access to the necessary training, equipment, and staffing to conduct emergency response missions and to continue to reduce community risk.
Specifically, this legislation would reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program, the Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) Grants program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant program. Congressional authorization for these grants expires tomorrow and sunsets on January 2, 2018.
The measure is a companion to S.829, sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Carper (D-DE), legislation the Senate passed on July 11, 2017 and now awaits action in the House. The bipartisan fire service co-chairs authored a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on August 11, 2017 asking the House to take up and pass the Senate bill.
“Firefighters and first responders across our nation deserve all the support they need to keep our communities safe,” said Representative Pascrell, an author of the original bill that created these grant programs. “When I crafted the initial law establishing these grant programs, I knew that towns and cities across our nation needed assistance to offset the costs associated with hiring new staff, replacing deteriorating equipment, and meeting training requirements. These federal grants ensure the brave men and women on the front lines are provided critical resources to support and protect communities across our nation. It is a no-brainer for the House to advance this non-controversial quickly for our fire services and fire safety nationwide.”
“It is essential that our first responders have the tools they need to protect the lives and well-being of the public and themselves,” Representative King said. “This legislation will go a long way to providing the resources, equipment and training for our nation’s first responders.”
“Our firefighters put their lives on the line for their communities each day,” said Representative Hoyer. “We must ensure that they have the resources they need to do their job safely and effectively. I’m proud to join in cosponsoring the bipartisan AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act, so that the hardworking men and women who make up fire departments across the nation have access to the proper equipment and training programs to support the critically important work that they do.”
“Our firefighters and first responders are the first line of defense in our communities,” said Representative Reichert. “But they are continually asked to do more with fewer resources and safety equipment. This bipartisan bill reauthorizes vital programs which help address the funding shortages for fire departments and first responders across our country. This support is necessary for our firefighters and first responders to perform their critical mission of protecting our families, while also having the resources to protect their own safety.”
“Every day our firefighters risk their lives to keep us safe, so it is important that we make every effort to support the important work and service they provide to our communities,” Representative Johnson said. “This legislation will allow our first responders to enhance their fire prevention program and reduce the incidences of injury or death, helping them to continue the vital services they provide to our community.”
This legislation has been endorsed by the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Volunteer Fire Council.
Background on AFG, FP&S, and SAFER Grant program
Congress created these grant programs to help address the significant staffing, equipment, training, and health and safety needs of fire departments. The SAFER Grant program provides funding to cover the costs associated with hiring personnel to maintain safe staffing levels. The AFG program makes funds available for fire departments to purchase equipment, provide training, and meet other fire department needs. The FP&S Grant program provides assistance to fire departments to support projects that enhance the safety of the public and firefighters from fire and related hazards in order to reduce injury and prevent death among high-risk populations. The current authorization for these vital programs expires in 2017.
Details of the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017
In order to improve upon the success of these grant programs, this legislation makes the following minor changes as part of the reauthorization:
- Eliminates the sunset provision: This legislation removes the sunset provision in current authorization for these grant programs in order to keep the programs from expiring on January 2, 2018.
- Extends the authorization date: This legislation extends the current AFG and SAFER Grant programs’ authorization levels of $750 million through FY 2023.
- Individual waiver authority: The last authorization for the SAFER grant program allowed the FEMA Administrator the discretion to waive the local match requirement. Erroneously, the bill only waived the reference to the local match requirement in one part of the statute and not the other, creating a situation where FEMA is unable to exercise the waiver authority as Congress intended. This legislation makes the technical correction to ensure the waiver authority operates as Congress intended for jurisdictions with demonstrated local hardship. Erroneously, the statute only waives the reference to the local match requirement in one part of the statute and not the other, creating a situation where FEMA is unable to exercise the waiver authority as Congress intended. This legislation makes the technical correction to ensure the waiver authority operates as Congress intended for jurisdictions with demonstrated local hardship.
- Improved oversight: This legislation requires the FEMA Administrator and Assistant Administrator for the Grant Program Directorate to make grants administration training available online so potential grant recipients are better able to access and manage grants. Additionally, the legislation requires the development and implementation of an oversight framework to reduce potential waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
- Expanded use of SAFER funds: This bill expands the use for SAFER grants so that fire departments may change part-time or paid-on-call firefighters to full-time firefighters.