Firefighting grants may be cut in 2017

Obama sent Congress a proposed budget that calls for less AFG and SAFER funding; use this election year to press for funding

With sequestration, government shutdowns and the FEMA calendar being thrown at us over the past few years, let's take a few minutes and get a grasp of just where we stand with funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant and Staffing for Adequate Emergency Response Grant.

As a reminder, the federal government's fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. In recent years, the government, while still officially under that timetable has allowed agencies to operate their programs outside of that time line.

Thus, FEMA has yet to open the 2015 SAFER or FP&S grant programs even though we are five months into the 2016 fiscal year.

This has caused problems with local departments trying to develop budgets and staffing plans for their coverage area since any previous funding they may have received from FEMA for SAFER has probably been exhausted.

On a positive note, because of the schedule we have been working under we know that there is funding for AFG, SAFER and FP&S programs for FY2016.

H.R. 2029 was originally introduced as the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act by Rep. Charles Dent (R-Pa.) on April 24, 2015.

The bill subsequently became the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, which President Obama signed into law Dec. 18, 2015; it funds AFG and SAFER at $690 million combined.

Proposed cuts
Earlier this month, the administration sent its FY2017 proposed budget to Congress. Included in the administration's spending plan are several programs of importance to the nation's fire and emergency services, including AFG and SAFER grant programs.

The proposed budget recommends funding AFG and SAFER at a combined $670 million, with funds split equally between the two programs. This is a reduction of $20 million from the FY2016 level.

Additionally, the president's budget proposes $40.8 million for the United States Fire Administration and includes $1.5 million for infrastructure improvements at the National Fire Academy. Congress funded USFA at $44 million for FY2016.

The ultimate decision on the 2017 budget as always, rests with Congress. The past several years, administration financial plans have included cuts to AFG and SAFER as well as the USFA.

Every time this president has sent such a spending plan to the hill, Congress has responded by returning AFG and SAFER to their previous financial amounts. It is crucial that this happen again this year for several reasons.

Although the national economic outlook has stabilized over the past two years, this hasn't translated into robust local economies. The majority of fire departments and EMS agencies are still struggling to make ends meet.

Take action
In addition, AFG has been around for 15 years and some of the equipment that was awarded through the early AFG grants has now exceeded its useful life.

The problem is that 10 years ago AFG was funded at almost twice the level it is today. If the 2017 administration budget passes, there will be even less funding to help replace such critically needed items as SCBA and turnout gear. Add to that the increased cost of the equipment, and fire department buying power is further eroded.

That's why it essential that you contact your senators and representative to tell them the importance of funding this program at its previous level. In addition to electing a president, we will elect all the members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate.

Please find out where the candidates stand on issues that are important to the fire service before you make your final decision.  

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