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Senate Adopts Amendment to Reauthorize, Improve Fire Grant Programs
Conference of Mayors Joins with Fire Service Organizations to Push for Passage

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
December 3, 2012

Late on November 29, the Senate adopted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2354) offered by Connecticut Senator Joseph I. Lieberman to reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs. Co'sponsoring the amendment with Senator Lieberman were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Tom Carper and Christopher Coons of Delaware, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Robert Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania.

The Conference of Mayors has strong policy in support of these programs and joined with 11 fire service organizations and the National Association of Counties in a letter of support for the amendment. That letter termed the amendment “an important step toward maintaining and building on the capabilities of our nation’s fire service.”

Both the AFG and SAFER grant programs were funded at $337.5 million last year.

The AFG program is intended to assist fire departments and nonaffiliated emergency medical service organizations meet their firefighting and emergency response needs by obtaining critically needed equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources needed to protect the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.

SAFER grants provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards.

The amendment makes needed improvements in the programs, including raising current grant caps, reducing the local match under AFG, simplifying the local match under SAFER, and providing waivers for communities facing significant economic hardship. While the original amendment would have reauthorized the programs for ten years, it was cut back to five years at the insistence of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn as a condition to passage by unanimous consent. Specifically the amendment would:

For the AFG Program:

  • Set aside at least 25 percent of appropriated funds each category of fire departments – career, volunteer and combination – and ten percent for the Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant program;

  • Set the match requirements at 15 percent for jurisdictions with a population over one million people, ten percent for those with a population between 20,000 and one million; and five percent for those with a population below 20,000;

  • Set a five percent match for all recipients of FP&S grants;

  • Establish economic hardship waivers for local match requirements;

  • Set maximum award size at $1 million for jurisdictions with a population of 100,000 or less; $2 million for those with a population between 100,000 and 500,000; $3 million for those with a population between one million and 2.5 million; and $9 million for those with a population above 2.5 million;

  • Authorize $750 million for the program in FY 2013, with an increase in the authorizations through FY 2017 based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.

For SAFER Grants:

  • Set local match requirements of 25 percent for the first two years and 65 percent for the third year;

  • Remove the requirement that fire departments must retain SAFER-funded firefighters for an extra year;

  • Remove the $100,000 limit on firefighter expenses;

  • Authorize $750 million for the program in FY 2013, with an increase in the authorizations through FY 2017 based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.