SENATE PASSES AMENDMENT REAUTHORIZING USFA AND FIRE SERVICE GRANT PROGRAMS; APPROVES CHANGES TO PSOB PROGRAM
On Thursday, November 29th, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment to S. 3254, the National Defense Authorization Act, that reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs, as well as the United States Fire Administration. The amendment, sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) and co-sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (ME), Thomas Carper (DE) and Scott Brown (MA), authorizes funding for USFA and the two grant programs through the end of Fiscal Year 2017. In addition, the amendment makes several critical improvements to the AFG and SAFER grant programs, including raising current grant caps, reducing the local match under FIRE, significantly simplifying the local match under SAFER, and providing waivers for communities facing significant economic hardship.
“We are very grateful to Senator Lieberman and the co-sponsors of this amendment for working diligently to bring reauthorization of these programs one step closer to reality,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. “We also extend our thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator John McCain, and Senator Carl Levin for their efforts.”
The Senate is expected to complete work on S. 3254 by Friday, November 30th. Then the House and Senate will convene a conference to resolve difference between their respective measures. The House approved its version of the legislation on May 18th; however, their version does not contain reauthorization language for AFG, SAFER and USFA. Therefore, Senate negotiators will need to convince their House counterparts to retain the Senate language.
Additionally, the Senate approved an amendment offered by Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) on Wednesday, November 28th. The Leahy amendment makes several changes to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program, intended to strengthen the program. The changes include:
- Providing mandatory funding for disability benefits;
- Expanding coverage to certain non-profit EMS providers; and
- Addition of vascular rupture under the causes of death covered by the Hometown Heroes provisions.
On February 14th the House passed H.R. 4018, sponsored by Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-8), that would make the same changes as the Leahy amendment.
The national fire service organizations have been working closely with a number of other organizations on the recent efforts to reauthorize AFG, SAFER and USFA – namely the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Working together, this coalition has delivered a consistent and unified message that got the attention of congressional leaders.
Strength in numbers can make a difference.