Make a Stand Against Proposed Budget Cuts

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Earlier this month, President Bush released his proposed budget for Federal Fiscal Year 2009. Unfortunately, he's again seen fit to reduce funding allocated to state and local governments — and fire departments will feel the effect.

Two of the specific programs that have seen significant reductions in funding are the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), which was reduced from the FY08 allocation of $750 million to $300 million, and the State Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP), cut from $950 million to $200 million. It means $1.2 billion has been eliminated from just two of the programs designed to provide support to state and local first responders.

Ironically, spending within the Department of Homeland Security will increase 7.6 percent over FY08. In fact, there are only two organizations within the DHS that are projected to see a decrease in FY09, with the first being the DHS Office of the Inspector General. It is slated for a 7 percent decrease from FY08.

The second organization that will see decreased funding is FEMA, which oversees the AFG and the HSGP. FEMA is projected to have a budget decrease of 47 percent — $1.9 billion — from FY08. More than half — in fact 63 percent — of these cuts at FEMA will be at the expense of the AFG and HSGP.

DHS Secretary Chertoff's comments on the FY09 budget from his Feb. 4 press conference make interesting reading. I was surprised to see he made no mention of either program in his prepared remarks, and only commented about them after receiving specific questions. His remarks were as follows:

Question: Mr. Secretary, it looks like there are substantial cuts to state and local programs and assistance to firefighter grants; those are things that members of Congress and state and local officials hold dear. What would you say to them about the thinking in those reductions?

Secretary Chertoff: Well, I will tell you that if you look at the firefighter grants, the request we've made this year is exactly the same as the request we made last year. Now, it's not a secret that Congress invariably appropriates more for grants than we request. I think the number that we've picked, which is the same we picked last year, is a sound and sensible number. If others in Congress have a different view, obviously, you know, in the end it's their purse strings. But I think what I would call attention to is the fact that we have continued the same level of request this year that we did last year.

Question: (Inaudible).

Secretary Chertoff: Well, I'm going to tell you, last year, for assistance to, for fire grants last year, we requested $300 million, and this year we're requesting $300 million, for '09.

Question: (Inaudible).

Secretary Chertoff: Well, if you look at the State Homeland Security Grant program, last year we requested $250 million. This year we're requesting $200 million for that program, but we're also requesting a new program that would go to the states for national security and terrorism prevention grants that would be $110 million. So if you add $200 million and $110 million, you're $60 million over our request last year.

I was disenchanted that nowhere in the 12 pages of Secretary Chertoff's statement — nearly 6,400 words — was there any mention of the AFG or the HSGP. You may be asking yourself, "What relevance does of any of this have to grant fundamentals?" It's really quite simple: if these budget cuts are enacted, then there are no grants, or very few, hence no need for fundamentals.

This all means that it is time again for the fire service to work through our national fire legislative and lobbying organizations to monitor the progress of the forthcoming appropriations legislation and to begin to contact our congressional representatives for support. We must be prepared to provide specific examples of the benefits of increasing our capabilities and we must be able to show how we, and in turn the American people, are safer.

Obviously in this election year, none of the politicians vying for every vote will want to promote the appearance of not supporting a strong homeland defense. We must be resolute in the message that homeland security begins at the local level and that is where we must take our message. There are 535 members of Congress that must hear our message loud and clear: Restore the funding and provide U.S. first responders with the support that they need to make the term homeland security meaningful.

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