Hill Updates

Congress Declares September 2020 Campus Fire Safety Month

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.

President Signs Stimulus Bill Into Law

This afternoon, the President signed into lawH.R.748, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The House passed the bill earlier today by voice vote and the Senate passed the bill earlier in the week by a vote of 96-0.
The bill provides approximately $2 trillion to stimulate the U.S. economy in the wake of the COVID-19-related economic downturn. H.R.748 includes a variety of incentives for both businesses and individuals, such as increased unemployment benefits, individual stimulus checks of up to $1,200, and loans for businesses.
Provisions of interest to the fire and emergency services include:
  • $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.
CFSI continues to advocate for the fire and emergency services to ensure they have the supplies and funding they need.

President’s Budget Released

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. 

What’s Next?

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.

Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations Update

On September 26​th​, the Senate voted 82-15 in favor of a House-passed continuing resolution (HR 4378)
that will fund the government through November 21​st​. The measure has been sent to President Trump,
who is expected to sign it.
To date, the House and Senate have not reached agreement on any of the 12 appropriation bills. With
Congress scheduled to go into recess for the next two weeks, they will have only five weeks remaining
upon their return to complete work on Fiscal Year 2020 funding before the November 21​st​ deadline.
The Department of Homeland Security appropriations legislation is of particular interest to the fire
service, as it contains funding for the United States Fire Administration, AFG and SAFER grant programs, and other programs that impact the fire service. Yesterday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an FY2020 DHS spending measure that would fund AFG and SAFER at $710 million split evenly, and the United States Fire Administration at $46.84 million. The House Appropriations Committee approved its own measure last June that would fund the two grant programs at $750 million split evenly, while appropriating $47,225 million for the United States Fire Administration.

House Approves Stopgap Spending Measure; Senate to Act on Measure Next Week to Avoid Government Shutdown

On September 19th, the House voted on a measure to fund the government through November 21st. The continuing resolution was approved 301 to 123. The Senate is expected to approve the measure next week. With only ten days remaining in Fiscal Year 2019, the two chambers need to approve the stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown.
To date, the House has approved ten of 12 appropriations bills. The two bills that still require approval are the Legislative Branch and Homeland Security appropriation measures. On the other hand, the full Senate has yet to act on any of the 12 measures, although the Senate Appropriations Committee has completed work on five spending bills.
A continuing resolution, or “CR”, is a spending measure that allows Congress to fund the federal government for a limited amount of time. Congress resorts to them to allow more time to enact appropriation bills to fund the federal government for the full fiscal year. Among the drawbacks, a CR continues the pre-existing appropriations at the same levels as the previous fiscal year and restricts the implementation of new federal programs.

House Approves Portable Fuel Container Safety Act, CO Poisoning Prevention Act

On September 17th, the House approved two important pieces of public safety legislation: H.R. 806, the Portable Fuel Container Safety Act and H.R. 1618, the Nicholas and Zachary Burt Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act.  
H.R. 806, introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-5), directs the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to require the addition of flame mitigation devices to consumer-grade portable fuel containers. H.R. 1618, introduced by Congresswoman Ann Kuster (NH-2), directs CPSC to establish a federal grant program to assist states in carrying out carbon monoxide detector installation and education programs.  Both bills were approved by voice vote. The two bills will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

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.