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Friday, June 11, 2010

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response: The SAFER Grant Program

Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act—popularly called the "SAFER Act"—was enacted by the 108th Congress as Section 1057 of the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-136). The SAFER Act authorizes grants to career, volunteer, and combination local fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry-minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. Also authorized are grants to volunteer fire departments for activities related to the recruitment and retention of volunteers. The SAFER grant program is authorized through FY2010.

With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns have arisen that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively participate in the program. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) included a provision (section 603) that waives the matching requirements for SAFER grants awarded in FY2009 and FY2010. The FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-32) included a provision authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive further limitations and restrictions in the SAFER statute for FY2009 and FY2010.

P.L. 111-83, the FY2010 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, provided $420 million for SAFER, double the amount appropriated in FY2009. The Administration's FY2011 budget proposed $305 million for SAFER, a 27% decrease from the FY2010 level. The FY2011 budget proposal for SAFER could receive heightened interest, given high rates of unemployment and the local budgetary cutbacks that many fire departments are now facing. Meanwhile, on May 26, 2010, the House Appropriations Committee released a summary of draft legislation for its version of the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations bill. Title III of the draft legislation would provide $500 million in additional FY2010 funding for SAFER.

Concerns over local fire departments' budgetary problems have also framed debate over the SAFER reauthorization, which is included in H.R. 3791, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009, passed by the House on November 18, 2009. On April 27, 2010, S. 3267, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2010, was introduced and referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. On April 28, the Committee ordered S. 3267 to be reported with an amendment favorably. Congress is considering whether some SAFER rules and restrictions governing the hiring grants should be permanently eliminated or altered in order to make it economically feasible for more fire departments to participate in the program.

Date of Report: June 4, 2010
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RL33375
Price: $29.95

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