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Thursday, April 4, 2013

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 13
th year. The Fire Act statute was reauthorized in 2012 (Title XVIII of P.L. 112-239) and provides new 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 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-6) funds AFG and SAFER at $337 million each. Additionally, AFG and SAFER are subject to sequestration. Both programs are part of FEMA’s State and Local Programs budget account, which is subject to a 5.0% cut. According to the Congressional Fire Service Institute, AFG and SAFER are expected to be cut by 5%, which yields FY2013 budget levels of $320 million for AFG and $320 million for SAFER. However, the amount of grant money available for AFG and SAFER is expected to be virtually unchanged from FY2012, because appropriations language provides that administrative costs are to be derived from the FEMA Salaries and Expense account, rather than (as is typically the case) from a 5% carve-out from the firefighter assistance (AFG and SAFER) appropriations account.

The 113
th Congress will likely consider FY2014 and FY2015 budget appropriations for AFG and SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels for AFG and SAFER. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire community, given the local budgetary cutbacks that many fire departments are facing.

Date of Report: March 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL32341
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