Congress Passes Fiscal Year 2018 Spending Package, Increases Funding for Fire Service Programs

(March 23, 2018) – Yesterday, Congress approved an omnibus spending bill to fund programs and activities of the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2018.  The government has been operating on a series of continuing resolutions since October 1, 2017, the beginning of the current fiscal year.    

Included in the spending package is 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 an increase of $10 million from the previous year’s appropriation. Additionally, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) is funded at $42.9 million, with an additional $1.497 million for infrastructure improvements at the National Fire Academy.  This is a slight increase from the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) funding level.

Several other programs received increased funding under the measure as well.  The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) is funded at $630 million, an increase of $25 million over FY17 funding.  The bill also provides $507 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program, an increase of $40 million. The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program is funded at $16 million and the State Fire Assistance program is funded at $80 million, increases of $1 million and $2 million respectively.  The Urban Area Search and Rescue System is funded at $35.18 million — essentially the same level of funding as past years.

The spending bill will now be sent to the President.  

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.

House Appropriations Committee Approves Fiscal Year 2018 Homeland Security Spending Bill

(July 21, 2017) – On Tuesday, July 18th, the House Appropriations Committee approved legislation funding the Department of Homeland Security for Fiscal Year 2018.  The $44.3 billion spending bill represents a nearly $2 billion increase in spending for the Department compared to the current fiscal year.  

The bill would fund the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs at $690 million, the same amount as the current fiscal year.  The United States Fire Administration (USFA) would receive a slight cut from $44 million for Fiscal Year 2017 to $43.41 million for Fiscal Year 2018.  The Urban Search and Rescue System (USAR) and the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) would both be funded at essentially the same levels as the current fiscal year.  The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) would receive $630 million, an increase of $25 million over the current fiscal year.  

Earlier this year, the White House released a Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal that recommend significant cuts to the USAR, SHSGP and UASI programs.  

Senate Confirms Brock Long to Head FEMA

(June 23, 2017) – On Tuesday, June 20th, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Brock Long to be the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Mr. Long has more than 16 years of emergency management experience, including as the Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency from 2008 -2011.  

FEMA’s mission is to coordinate the federal government’s disaster response, preparedness and mitigation efforts.  The agency oversees the United States Fire Administration and a number of first responder grant programs, including the Assistance to Firefighters and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant programs.  

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Mr. Long’s nomination by voice vote on June 12th.  The full Senate approved his appointment by a vote of 95-4.

CFSI Participates In BuildStrong Coalition Thought Leaders Forum

(June 9, 2017) – On Wednesday, June 7th, the BuildStrong Coalition hosted the National Thoughts Leaders Forum on Disaster Mitigation Resiliency for a Stronger and Safer America.  The forum, featuring members of Congress, fire service leaders, code and standard organizations, and representatives of the construction and insurance industries, examined the impact strong building codes can have in saving lives and taxpayer dollars and explored incentives for strengthening buildings and mitigating damage from natural disasters.   

Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11), Congressman Lloyd Smucker (PA-16), and Senator Ron Johnson (WI) addressed the forum.  The members of Congress largely focused their comments on the need to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster assistance programs to better protect the public while simultaneously safeguarding taxpayer dollars.

The Forum also featured a Stakeholder Roundtable, which included subject matter experts from a variety of fields, including the fire and emergency services.  Members of the roundtable emphasized the need for federal incentives to encourage state and local governments to adopt model building codes.  Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, participated in the roundtable discussion.  

“Studies, research and real-life events make a compelling case for greater adoption and enforcement of nationally recognized building codes,” said Mr. Webb.  “Providing incentives to encourage more states to adopt these codes, as part of a national mitigation strategy, will reduce the cost of natural disasters for government at the local, state and federal levels and greatly reduce the risk of death and injuries to citizens caught in pathway of these disasters and the first responders who put their lives on the line to save others.”  

CFSI has been a member of the BuildStrong Coalition since 2011 and continues to advocate for the adoption of strong building codes at the federal, state and local levels.