During the past three months, several of my articles have focused on the situation with the federal budget and its effect on emergency services in our nation. It seems that all of this information may have caused some confusion with the status of certain legislation and exactly what you should be talking to your federal representatives about.
First, let's take a refresher course on two important terms dealing with the federal process. Those terms are “authorization" and "appropriation.” They may sound very similar, but they are actually two very different but important steps in the legislative process.
An authorizing measure is taken by Congress to establish, continue or modify a program. For example, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program was established by a Congressional authorization. The process for authorization is governed by the rules of the House and Senate.
The second and equally important part of this procedure is the appropriations process. An appropriations measure gives budget authority to an agency to expend a set amount of funding for its operations and programs. In layman’s terms, the appropriation legislation provides the money to keep the programs of authorized agencies functioning.
The federal budget is supposed to operate on an Oct. 1-Sept. 30 fiscal year. As I’m sure you are aware, in recent years Congress has been unable to meet those deadlines, and the entire schedule of programs for federal agencies has been thrown out of alignment. As a result, the SAFER grant application that just closed and the Fire Prevention and Safety grant application scheduled to open soon are actually appropriated from the 2011 federal budget.
In Dec., the President signed the FY12 spending plan that had been approved by Congress. This plan includes $337.5 million each for the AFG and SAFER programs. These numbers represent a significant cut from the 2011 figures of $405 million each, but they have been established by law, and there is nothing that we can do to change them any longer.
The two important pieces of legislation that are still in play as far as fire and emergency services are concerned are the 2013 proposed budget and the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act. The 2013 proposed budget was sent to Congress in February and asked for AFG and SAFER funding to be set at $335 million each for fiscal year 2013.
The Fire Grants Reauthorization Act was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lieberman and in the House by Rep. Johnson. This measure would authorize the extension of the Fire Act Grant until 2016. Both of these measures are critical to the life of the fire service in America.
Please take a few minutes to contact your federal representatives and ask them to support the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act. Ask them not to continue cutting the AFG and SAFER appropriations but instead to increase these numbers to their previous levels.
Remember, once legislation is passed and signed into law, it is too late to do anything about it.
I hope this has given you a clear update of where these important measures stand in the federal process.