Hill Updates

White House Releases Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Proposal, Details Requests for Fire Service Programs

(February 15, 2018) – On Monday, the White House released President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal. The $4.4 trillion spending plan includes $46 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security. While Congress has yet to complete work on the Fiscal Year 2018 spending package, committees in the House and Senate will begin reviewing the Administration’s spending requests for the next 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 2018 budget proposal, and a slight reduction from the $690 million Congress appropriated for the programs in Fiscal Year 2017. The budget proposal also requests $43,493,000 for the United States Fire Administration (USFA), with an additional $1,500,000 targeted for infrastructure improvements at USFA’s Emmitsburg, MD campus. Congress appropriated $44 million for USFA in Fiscal Year 2017.

The President’s plan proposes the same amount for the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) as the FY18 budget request: $349.4 million and $448.8 million.  If enacted, funding for both programs would be reduced by  25% compared to actual Fiscal Year 2017 funding levels.

The White House is proposing to fund the Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant program at $11.02 million and State Fire Assistance (SFA) at $65.93 million. These programs provide assistance to states and local fire departments for wildland fire prevention, detection, and suppression. In Fiscal Year 2017, the programs were funded at $15 million and $78 million respectively.

The release of the White House budget proposal is the first step in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget process. Once Congress completes its work on the Fiscal Year 2018 funding bills, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin drafting Fiscal Year 2019 funding bills for the individual federal agencies. CFSI will continue to provide updates throughout the process.


Congress Approves Six-Week Continuing Resolution, Includes Disaster Reforms and Other First Responder Provisions

(February 9, 2018) – The House and Senate have approved a six-week continuing resolution to avoid a potential government shutdown.  The measure, which includes a two-year agreement on spending-caps, is the fifth continuing resolution Congress has approved as both chambers continue to struggle with finalizing a funding package for Fiscal Year 2018.  

In addition to maintaining funding for the operations of the federal government through March 23rd, the continuing resolution includes several legislative provisions of importance to the nation’s fire and emergency services.  H.R. 1892, the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act, is the underlying legislation the continuing resolution was attached to.  The bill amends the U.S. Flag Code, affirming the ability of state governors, as well as the mayor of the District of Columbia, to order the lowering of the United States flag to half-staff in the event of the death of a first responder in the line- of- duty.  The Honoring Hometown Heroes Act was originally introduced in the House by Congressman John Larson (CT-1) and in the Senate by Senator Jon Tester (MT).  

In addition to containing provisions to honor fallen public safety officers, the continuing resolution also makes significant reforms to federal disaster response by allowing the federal cost share for certain disaster assistance to be increased from 75 to 85 percent if states take steps to make themselves more resilient against disasters – including the adoption and enforcement of current building codes.  These reforms are a key component of H.R. 4460, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, first introduced by Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) on November 28, 2017.  

Additionally, the continuing resolution extends the Medicare Ambulance Add-On payments for five years.  These payments provide an additional 2%, 3% or 22.6% payment for transportation of Medicare patients from urban, rural and super-rural jurisdictions.

Congress Reauthorizes Firefighter Grant Programs, U.S. Fire Administration

(December 21, 2017) – On December 21st, the Senate approved by unanimous consent H.R. 4661, the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act. The House approved H.R. 4661 by unanimous voice vote on Monday, December 18th.

The bill reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and the Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs, as well as the U.S. Fire Administration through September 30, 2023. It contains many of the key recommendations the fire organizations presented to Congress earlier in the year that were incorporated into S.829, the Senate bill to reauthorize the two grant programs that was sponsored by Senators John McCain (AZ) and Jon Tester (MT). The bill also contains a “sunset” provision that would eliminate the grant programs, but the sunset would not take effect until September 30, 2024 unless Congress renews the programs before the deadline date.

“For more than a year, the national fire services organizations have worked together to preserve the Assistance to Firefighters, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, and the Fire Prevention and Safety grant programs. The collective efforts of so many individuals and fire organizations made this outcome possible. CFSI takes great pride in playing an integral role in this process,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.

H.R. 4661 will now be sent to the President to be signed into law.

House Passes Disaster Supplemental, Included Disaster Recovery Reform Provisions

(December 21, 2017) – On December 21st, the House passed H.R. 4667, a disaster relief supplemental spending measure. The bill, which provides additional disaster assistance funding to assist communities recovering from the recent wildfires and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, also includes important provisions to improve the nation’s disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts.

According to the BuildStrong Coalition, recent hurricanes and wildfires have caused over 260 American deaths and more than $300 billion in projected damages. Research has demonstrated that $1 invested pre-disaster saves $4-8 on post-disaster recovery costs.

H.R. 4667 includes provisions from the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, legislation recently introduced by Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11). These provisions provide incentives for states to adopt national recognized model building codes and funding for post-disaster code implementation and enforcement.

The Senate is expected to take up the supplemental spending measure after the holiday recess.

Senator John McCain Named 2017 CFSI Legislator of The Year Award

(December 21, 2017) – The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) has named Senator John McCain (AZ) the 2017 Legislator of the Year.  An original co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, Senator McCain has been a long-time advocate for the national fire and emergency services on Capitol Hill.

“For 30 years, Senator McCain has stood by the side of the American fire service, offering his leadership and support on a variety of issues,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “We are grateful for all he has done for our nation’s first responders and it is an honor to recognize him during the 30th anniversary of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.”   

Fire Sprinkler Provisions, LOSAP Reforms Included in Tax Overhaul Bill

(December 21, 2017) – On December 20th, the House and Senate approved the conference report to H.R. 1, the tax reform bill.  While the tax bill could have far reaching implications on individuals, businesses, and local governments, there are some provisions in the bills that have a specific impact on the nation’s fire and emergency services.

The bill 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.  

The cost of fire in America is enormous. In 2015, fire claimed the lives of 3,280 civilians and led to 15,700 civilian injuries. The direct property damage caused by fire was an estimated $14.3 billion.  One of the most effective ways to minimize the loss of life and property to fire is with automatic sprinklers. Current building codes require sprinklers in many of the most vulnerable occupancies, such as student housing, commercial and residential high-rise, and entertainment complexes. Unfortunately, there are still thousands of structures that were built and put in service before sprinklers were required. In many jurisdictions, these structures are grandfathered from current standards despite the dangers of these occupancies.  Providing an economic incentive to property owners to do the right thing and retrofit properties with automatic fire sprinklers has the potential to have a significant impact on addressing the nation’s fire problem.  

H.R. 1 also increases the cap on allowable annual contributions into a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) from $3,000 to $6,000 and establishes a mechanism for the cap to be raised over time with inflation.  The current cap was established in 1996 and has not been adjusted since. A LOSAP is a retirement account for volunteer emergency responders in which approximately 20 percent of the 814,850 volunteer firefighters in the United States are enrolled.  Many communities provide modest financial incentives to their volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel to boost recruitment and retention and LOSAP is one of the most popular benefits.  

H.R. 1 will now be sent to the White House to be signed into law by the President.  

Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act Becomes Law

(November 21, 2017) – On November 17th, President Trump signed the Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act into law.  The legislation, which was introduced as H.R. 304 by Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-8), clarifies existing law to allow EMS providers to continue dispensing controlled substances under “standing orders”.  Senator Bill Cassidy (LA) introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

At the spring meeting of the Congressional Fire Service Institute’s National Advisory Committee, the committee unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Volunteer Fire Council calling on CFSI to support passage of the legislation.

Congressional Staff Participate in Ride Along Program

(November 21, 2017) – Throughout the year, CFSI arranges for congressional staff to spend an evening riding with DC Fire and EMS to actual emergencies.  Another successful program took place on November 17th as participants rode on apparatus to fires, emergency medical calls and other incidents.  CFSI extends a special thanks to DC Chief Gregory Dean and his personnel for providing this educational opportunity for the participants.  

This programs is an example of how CFSI continues to perform its mission of educating members of Congress about the challenges and needs of our nation’s fire and emergency services.

House Approves Firefighter Cancer Registry Act

(September 13, 2017) – On Tuesday, September 12th, the House approved by voice vote H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9), creates a specialized national registry to provide researchers and epidemiologists with the tools and resources they need to improve research collection activities related to the monitoring of cancer incidence among firefighters.

Studies have indicated a strong link between firefighting and an increased risk of several major cancers, including colon, lung, melanoma, mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate, rectal, testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancer. The heightened risk of cancer among firefighters has been attributed to their frequent exposure to a range of harmful toxins.

Unfortunately, studies examining cancer risks among firefighters have been limited by the availability of important data and relatively small sample sizes that have an underrepresentation of women, minorities, and volunteer firefighters. As a result, public health researchers have been unable to fully examine and understand the broader epidemiological cancer trends among firefighters. A specialized national cancer registry would expand access to vital epidemiological data and improve research outcomes.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Passes Firefighter Grants Reauthorization

(August 3, 2017) – On August 2nd, the Senate approved S. 829, the AFG and SAFER Reauthorization Act, by unanimous consent.  The legislation, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 17th, reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG), the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs through Fiscal Year 2023.  Additionally, the legislation removes a “sunset” provision in the current authorizing statute that would eliminate the programs on January 2, 2018.

S. 829 was introduced by Senator John McCain (AZ) and Senator Jon Tester (MT), both co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus.  Senator Susan Collins (ME), chair of the Fire Caucus, and Senator Tom Carper, a fellow Fire Caucus co-chair, are original co-sponsors of the legislation.

“We are very grateful to the Senate for taking action to reauthorize these critical, life saving programs that have had such an immense impact in communities across the entire nation,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “The passage of S. 829 is the result of a cooperative and unified effort by the national fire service organizations, as well as persistent grassroots engagement by fire service leaders throughout the country.  We strongly urge the House to approve the Senate bill as soon as they return from the August Congressional recess.”  

On July 12th, the House Science, Technology and Space Committee’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology conducted a hearing on reauthorizing the AFG, SAFER and FP&S grant programs.  Unfortunately, the House adjourned for a five-week district work period before the subcommittee could take action on any legislation.  The House is scheduled to return on September 5th.