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Friday, December 21, 2012

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 12
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).

For FY2012, P.L. 112-74, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, provided $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER. The Administration’s FY2013 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for AFG and $335 million for SAFER. Both the House-passed FY2013 appropriations bill (H.R. 5855) and the Senate Appropriations Committee bill (S. 3216) provide $675 million ($337.5 million for AFG and $337.5 million for SAFER). The Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (P.L. 112-175), funds firefighter assistance programs through the first six months of FY2013 at an increase of 0.612% of the FY2012 level. Therefore, under the FY2013 continuing resolution, AFG is funded at $339.5 million and SAFER is funded at $339.5 million.

On March 10, 2011, S. 550, the Fire Grants Authorization Act of 2011, was introduced into the Senate. On June 22, 2011, H.R. 2269, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2011, was introduced into the House. Previously 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.

On November 29, 2012, the Senate adopted, by unanimous consent, AFG and SAFER reauthorization language as an amendment to S. 3254, the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act. On December 4, 2012, the Senate passed S. 3254 by a 98-0 vote. The Senatepassed defense authorization bill is going to conference with the House-passed defense authorization bill, H.R. 4130. H.R. 4130 does not contain firefighter assistance provisions. 

Date of Report: December 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: RL32341
Price: $29.95

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