Hill Updates

Senate Votes to Reauthorize September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

On Tuesday, July 23rd, the Senate approved H.R. 1327, the Never Forget The Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, And Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act by a vote of 97-2.  The legislation fully funds and permanently reauthorizes the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.  The House overwhelmingly approved the bill on July 12th with a vote of 402-12.  

The bill will now be sent to the White House for the President’s signature.   

Senators Collins and Cardin Introduce Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act

On Tuesday, July 23rd, Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Benjamin Cardin (MD) introduced S. 2214, the Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act (VESRRA).  The legislation simplifies how Length of Service Award Programs (LOSAPs) benefiting volunteer emergency personnel are taxed.  

LOSAPs are important to the volunteer fire service, allowing fire departments to offer incentives, including retirement savings plans, to recruit and retain veteran volunteer firefighters. Approximately 20 percent of volunteer firefighters are enrolled in a LOSAP plan.  Currently, the tax code specifies that a LOSAP is not an eligible deferred compensation plan. VESRRA would solve this problem by allowing LOSAPs to operate as traditional employer retirement plans, making contributions tax-deferred, guaranteed, and portable.

S. 2214 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. 

House Votes to Reauthorize September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

On Friday, July 12th, the House approved H.R. 1327, the Never Forget The Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, And Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund ActThe legislation fully funds and permanently reauthorizes the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

On January 2, 2011, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides medical monitoring, treatment, and compensation to individuals sick or injured from the 9/11 attacks, was signed into law. In 2015, Congress extended the health program through 2090, but only extended the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), which provides compensation to those sick or injured as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or the rescue and recovery efforts that took place subsequently, through 2020. Now, in addition to the looming sunset date in 2020, the VCF is on track to run out of funding before the end of the year.  

Claims to the VCF continue to grow as the number of individuals diagnosed with 9/11-related illnesses and cancers from their exposure to toxins at Ground Zero grows every day. Today, over 42,000 people who are in the World Trade Center Health Program are suffering from at least one certified 9/11 condition, while a large percentage have multiple conditions.

The bill will now go before the Senate for consideration.  

 

House Begins Consideration of Fiscal Year 2020 Spending Bills, Increases Funding for Fire Service Programs

On Wednesday, June 19th, the House approved H.R. 2740, the Fiscal Year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. The nearly $1 trillion spending package combines four bills previously approved by the House Appropriations Committee.  

Included in H.R. 2740 is funding for the National Firefighter Registry.  In 2018, Congress created the National Firefighter Registry, a specialized national cancer registry to provide researchers and epidemiologists with the tools and resources needed to improve research collection activities related to the monitoring of cancer incidence among firefighters.  While Congress authorized $2.5 million annually for the program, H.R. 2740 originally only funded the program at $1.6 million for Fiscal Year 2020.

Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9), a co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) sponsored an amendment to fully fund the National Firefighter Registry. The House approved the Pascrell-Collins amendment by a vote of 413-10.  The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The House is currently debating H.R. 3055, the Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act.  The bill funds the State Fire Assistance program at $83.105 million, an increase of 2.105 million over Fiscal Year 2019, and also funds the Volunteer Fire Assistance program at $19 million, an increase of $2 million over the current fiscal year.  

Additionally, on June 12th, the House Appropriations Committee approved a draft Fiscal Year 2020 Homeland Security spending bill.  The legislation funds agencies and programs within the Department of Homeland Security.  The bill provides $47.225 million for the United States Fire Administration, an increase of $1.546 million over Fiscal Year 2019.  The bill also increases funding for a number of grant programs, including:

  • $750 million for AFG/SAFER (split evenly among the two programs), an increase of $50 million from Fiscal Year 2019;
  • $700 million for the Urban Areas Security Initiative, $60 million increase from Fiscal Year 2019; and
  • $625 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, $100 million increase from Fiscal Year 2019.

The Homeland Security spending bill will now go to the full House for consideration.  

House Judiciary Committee Approves Reauthorization Of September 11th Victim Compensation Fund

On June 12th, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 1327, the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.  The legislation fully funds and permanently reauthorizes the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, guaranteeing compensation for firefighters and other responders who develop illnesses due to exposure to toxic conditions when they responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The bill, which was introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) and has 323 cosponsors, will now go the full House for consideration.  Identical legislation, S. 546, was introduced in the Senate by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY).  

Nominations Being Accepted for the Public Safety Medal of Valor

In 2001, Congress approved legislation to create the Public Safety Medal of Valor.  The award is the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer, which includes members of the fire and emergency services.  The award presentation is conducted annually during a special ceremony at the White House by the President or Vice President. The most recent ceremony took place on May 22nd.

Nominations must be submitted by the chief executive officer of the nominee’s employing agency.   Click here for additional details.  Nominations are due by 11:59 pm on July 31, 2019.

Please share this information with the appropriate fire service officials if you know of firefighters who are worthy of consideration.

CFSI Releases 2019 Legislative Outlook

The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) has released its Legislative Outlook for the First Session of the 116th Congress.  In 2019, Congress is considering many issues of critical importance to the nation’s fire and emer­gency services. Actions taken by Congress will have a direct impact on the fire service’s ability to prepare for, respond to, prevent, and mitigate incidents both large and small, natural and man-made, local and national in scope. The CFSI Legislative Outlook is a synopsis of some critical issues Congress will be considering.

“On April 24th and 25th, over 1,500 fire service leaders will be in Washington, DC attending the 31st Annual National Fire and Emergency Services Symposium and Dinner.  As part of the event, they will be on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress and their staffs to discuss a number of critical issues,” said Bill Webb, CFSI’s Executive Director.  “We hope this document will not only be a valuable resource for them while they prepare for their trip to our nation’s capital, but also for their members of Congress.”

The CFSI 2019 Legislative Outlook, as well as a list of current fire service legislation, can be found by visiting CFSI’s website.

Senators Toomey and Jones Introduce Restoring Investments in Improvements Act: Includes Incentives for Fire Sprinkler Retrofits

On March 14, 2019, Senators Pat Toomey (PA) and Doug Jones (AL) introduced S. 803, the Restoring Investments in Improvements Act, bipartisan legislation to restore intended incentives for investments in Qualified Improvement Properties, including fire protection systems.

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-97).  The legislation contained a significant provision to increase fire safety in commercial properties.  The law classifies “fire protection systems” as an eligible property under Section 179 of the tax code.  This provision allows small and medium-sized businesses to fully expense certain types of equipment purchases like machines, equipment, vehicles, and computers.  With the expansion of Section 179 to now include fire protection systems, small and medium-sized businesses will be able to fully expense, up to $1 million, the retrofit of a property with automatic fire sprinklers.    
While this is an important life safety provision, there was another provision that would have further incentivized commercial property owners to retrofit their properties with fire protection systems.  Unfortunately, this second provision was inadvertently omitted from the legislation approved by Congress. The provision in question would classify “fire protection systems” (including automatic fire sprinkler systems) as Qualified Improvement Properties (QIP), which would be eligible for bonus depreciation. QIP includes fire sprinklers and any other non-structural improvement to the inside of a commercial building. This would allow fire protection systems to be eligible for immediate expensing for the first 5 years, tapering down to zero over the following 5 years. Additionally, at the end of this accelerated depreciation period, the depreciation schedule for fire sprinklers would be adjusted from 39-years to 15-years.  However, due to a drafting error, this provision was not enacted as part of the 2017 tax reform law.

The Toomey-Jones bill would restore the intended incentives for investments in Qualified Improvement Properties, including fire protection systems, and make these incentives retroactive for property improvements placed into service since the date of the law’s enactment.  The legislation has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.  

White House Releases Fiscal Year 2020 Spending Proposal; Recommends Cuts to Fire Service Programs

(March 19, 2019) – On March 11th, the White House released President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal. The $4.7 trillion spending plan includes $51.7 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security, a $3.6 billion increase over estimated spending for the current fiscal year.

The spending plan requests $688,688,000 for the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs, split evenly between the two programs. This is the same amount the Administration requested in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal and a reduction from the $700 million Congress appropriated for the programs in Fiscal Year 2019.

Additionally, the White House is recommending significant cuts to the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI).  Under the spending plan, the State Homeland Security Grant Program would be funded at $331.393 million and UASI would be funded at $426.461 million, a reduction of more than one-third of the current funding levels for each program.  

The budget proposal also requests $46,605,000 for the United States Fire Administration (USFA). Congress appropriated $45.679 million for USFA in Fiscal Year 2019.  Unfortunately, the proposal does not include funding for State Fire Training Assistance, a program that allows the National Fire Academy to partner with state fire training academies in delivering its classes at the state and local levels.

The White House is proposing to fund the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program at $11.02 million and State Fire Assistance (SFA) program at $65.93 million. These programs provide assistance to states and local fire departments for wildland fire prevention, detection, and suppression. In Fiscal Year 2019, the programs were funded at $17 million and $81 million respectively.

The release of the White House budget proposal is the first step in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget process. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin drafting Fiscal Year 2020 funding bills for the individual federal departments and agencies. CFSI will continue to provide updates throughout the process.

 

Congress Approves Fiscal Year 2019 Spending Bill

On Thursday, February 14th, the Senate and House both approved H.J. Res. 31, the Consolidated Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Act.  The $333 billion spending package, which combines seven Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bills, includes funding for several programs of significance to the nation’s fire and emergency services.  

The Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs are funded at $700 million, split evenly between the two programs.  This is the same level of funding Congress appropriated in Fiscal Year 2018. Additionally, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) is funded at $44.179 million, with an additional $1.5 million for infrastructure improvements at the National Fire Academy.  This is a sizable increase from the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) funding level of $42.9 million.

Several other programs received increased funding under the measure as well.  The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) is funded at $640 million, an increase of $10 million over FY18 funding.  The bill also provides $525 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, an increase of $18 million. The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program is funded at $17 million and the State Fire Assistance program is funded at $81 million, increases of $1 million each.  The Urban Area Search and Rescue System is funded at $45.18 million, an increase of $10.15 million.

The spending bill will now be sent to the President.