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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 11
th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2004 (Title XXXVI of P.L. 108-375) and provides overall guidelines on how fire grant money should be distributed. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, the law does require that fire grants be distributed to a diverse mix of fire departments, with respect to type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g. urban, suburban, or rural).

The Administration’s FY2011 budget proposed $305 million for AFG and $305 million for SAFER. For FY2011, the Continuing Appropriations and Surface Transportation Extension Act, 2011 (P.L. 111-322) funds firefighter assistance at FY2010 levels through March 4, 2011. H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, as introduced on February 11, 2011, would have provided $300 million to AFG and zero funding for SAFER. However, on February 16, 2011, H.Amdt. 223 (offered by Representative Pascrell and agreed to by the House by a vote of 318-113) restored AFG to $390 million and SAFER to $420 million (the FY2010 levels). H.R. 1 was passed by the House on February 18, 2011.

The Administration’s FY2012 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $250 million for AFG and $420 million for SAFER. According to the budget proposal, the request would fund 2,200 firefighter positions and approximately 5,000 AFG grants.

In the 111
th Congress, reauthorization legislation for AFG and SAFER was passed by the House, but was not passed by the Senate. Debate over the reauthorization reflected a competition for funding between career/urban/suburban departments and volunteer/rural departments. The urgency of this debate was heightened by the proposed reduction of overall AFG funding in FY2011, and the economic downturn in many local communities increasingly hard pressed to allocate funding for their local fire departments.

Because the 111
th Congress did not enact the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act, it is possible that the 112th Congress may reconsider the reauthorization bill. The 112th Congress is also likely to consider appropriate funding levels for firefighter assistance in FY2011 and FY2012.

Date of Report: February 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: RL32341
Price: $29.95

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