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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

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 waived 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. H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011, as amended, would continue to allow SAFER grants to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters and fill positions eliminated through attrition.

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

The Administration’s FY2012 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $420 million for SAFER, which according to the FY2012 budget proposal, would fund 2,200 firefighter positions.

Concerns over local fire departments’ budgetary problems have framed debate over the SAFER reauthorization, which was 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.

Ultimately, the 111
th Congress did not enact the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act. Therefore, it is likely that the 112th Congress may reconsider the reauthorization bill. As part of the reauthorization debate, Congress may consider 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. The 112th Congress is also likely to consider appropriate funding levels for SAFER in FY2011 and FY2012.

Date of Report: February 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33375
Price: $29.95

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