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Thursday, September 26, 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 108
th 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. 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.

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) funded SAFER and AFG at $337 million each. Additionally, SAFER and AFG were subject to sequestration. Both programs are part of FEMA’s State and Local Programs budget account, which was subject to a 5.0% cut. According to DHS, the post-sequester FY2013 budget level for SAFER and AFG was $320.92 million for AFG and $320.92 million for SAFER. However, the amount of grant money available for SAFER and AFG is expected to be virtually unchanged from FY2012, because appropriations language provided that administrative costs are to be derived from the FEMA Salaries and Expense account.

The Administration’s FY2014 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for SAFER and $335 million for AFG. The FY2014 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act (H.R. 2217), as passed by the House on June 6, 2013, provided $680 million for firefighter assistance, including $340 million for SAFER and $340 million for AFG. On July 18, 2013, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $675 million for firefighter assistance, including $337.5 million for SAFER and $337.5 million for AFG.

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: September 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: RL33375
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