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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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, known as 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 recruitment and retention of volunteers. SAFER is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns arose that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively and affordably participate in the program. Since FY2009, annual appropriations bills have contained provisions that waive certain provisions of the SAFER statute. These provisions included the length of the grant, maintenance of expenditure requirements, local matching requirements, and grant caps. The waivers served to reduce the financial obligation on SAFER grant recipients, and allowed SAFER grants to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters and to fill positions lost through attrition.

Under the existing SAFER statute, the program was authorized through FY2010. The 112
th Congress enacted the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-239), which reauthorized SAFER through FY2017; altered the grant distribution formula among career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments; raised available funding for higher population areas; and addressed waiver issues previously addressed in annual appropriations legislation.

The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-6) funds SAFER and AFG at $337 million each. Additionally, SAFER and AFG 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, SAFER and AFG are expected to be cut by 5%, which yields FY2013 budget levels of $320 million for SAFER and $320 million for AFG. However, the amount of grant money available for SAFER and AFG 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 (SAFER and AFG) appropriations account.

The 113
th Congress will likely consider FY2014 and FY2015 budget appropriations for SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels. 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 now facing. The 113th Congress will also likely examine the impact of new SAFER hiring grant guidelines mandated by P.L. 112-239, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012. The continuing issue is how effectively grants are being distributed and used to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards.

Date of Report: March 28, 2013
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RL33375
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