On December 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year (FY) 2021 (H.R.133). The bill passed both chambers of Congress last week by significant majorities.
The Congressional Fire Services Institute selected Congressman Peter King (NY-02) as its 2020 Legislator of the Year.
Yesterday, a Senate resolution, S.Res.723, passed the Senate unanimously, declaring September 2020 as Campus Fire Safety Month. The resolution was introduced by Senators Susan Collins and Tom Carper, co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.
In a press release, Senator Collins noted, “As college and university students resume classes this fall, it is important that we continue to place an emphasis on fire safety, both in dormitories and in off-campus housing. Our bipartisan resolution promotes fire safety education and fire prevention efforts in campus communities to help protect students and save lives.”
“By designating September as Campus Fire Safety Month, Americans are reminded of the importance of fire safety, awareness and prevention. Students and faculty can each do their part to increase attention to fire hazards and create safer campuses across the country to help save lives,” said Senator Carper.
The resolution encourages the provision of fire safety education to college students, evaluations of existing campus fire safety, installation of fire detection and suppression systems, and development of applicable codes.
- $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.