- $100 million to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program “for the purchase of personal protective equipment and related supplies, including reimbursements.”
- An additional $7 million for Wildland Fire Management “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, including for personal protective equipment and baseline health testing for first responders.”
- $100 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants.
- A technical correction for Qualified Improvement Property (QIP). An error in the 2017 tax reform bill meant that this class of property, which generally includes interior improvements to buildings, did not receive 15-year depreciation or access to full expensing. The technical correction included in H.R.748 will provide 15-year depreciation and access to full expensing for QIP, helping to incentivize fire sprinklers. CFSI has been working to secure this change since 2018.
- $45 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund.
- $1 billion for the Defense Production Act “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” This may include addressing shortages of personal protective equipment and medical supplies such as ventilators.
- $16 billion for the National Strategic Stockpile to purchase personal protective equipment and other medical equipment.
- Language to help the Food and Drug Administration address drug shortages, including prioritizing review of certain drugs.
The budget and appropriations cycle for fiscal year (FY) 2021 kicked off in earnest yesterday when President Trump released his recommendations for government spending. Known as the President’s Budget Request (PBR), the documents contain the President’s suggested funding levels for various agencies and programs.
Recommendations for a few items of interest to the fire service are as follows:
- AFG/SAFER: The PBR recommended $344.3 million for both AFG and SAFER, a decrease from the FY2020 level of $355 million.
- Urban Search and Rescue: The PBR recommended 37.832 million, the same as the FY2020 level.
- U.S. Fire Administration: The PBR recommended $49.7 million, an increase from the FY2020 level of $46.8 million.
What Does the President’s Budget Mean?
While the PBR contains the Executive Branch’s recommendations for funding levels, Congress does not often follow these suggestions. The House and Senate may take into account a few specific recommendations for certain programs or agencies, but Congress typically follows its own priorities when writing the current year’s appropriations bills.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will hold hearings where agency and program representatives testify on the performance of various initiatives. Members of Congress can also use these hearings to question agency officials on programs of interest to their states and districts. Information gleaned from these hearings may be taken into account when the committees consider the funding levels for various programs and agencies in the actual appropriations bills. These hearings have already started in the House.
Ultimately, Congress needs to approve 12 appropriation measures before the current fiscal year comes to a close in September. Throughout the appropriations process, CFSI will provide updates on FY2021 funding for programs that benefit our nation’s fire service.
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.
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.
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 Act. The 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.
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.
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).