AFG, SAFER funding preserved in new federal budget

The 2017 U.S. government federal spending plan also sustains USFA funding and increases allocation for Urban Area Security Initiative and the USAR system

Federal spending plan averts a government shutdown and preserves funding for programs important to the nation's fire and emergency services. On May 4, 2017, the Senate passed a 2017 spending plan for the U.S. Federal Government. The U.S. House of Representatives had passed a similar package the day before. The 2017 fiscal plan legislation was signed into law by President Trump before causing a government shutdown, which was set to take place on Saturday.

AFG, SAFER funded for another year

Included in the spending package is funding for several programs of significance to the nation's fire and emergency services. The Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs are funded at $690 million, split evenly between the two programs. This is the same amount the two programs received in 2016.

USFA and Homeland Security Grant funding sustained

The State Homeland Security Grant Program is funded at $467 million. This is the same funding level Congress approved for this program in the previous fiscal year.

Additionally, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) is funded at $44 million, the same level as the previous fiscal year.

UASI, USAR, VFA receive funding increases

Several programs received a slight increase in funding under the measure. The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) is funded at $605 million, an increase of $5 million compared to fiscal year 2016.

The bill also provides $38,200,000 for the Urban Search and Rescue Response System (USAR), an increase of $3.1 million. The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) program is funded at $15 million, an increase of $2 million from fiscal year 2016.

The budget also includes $407 million for wildland firefighting activities for this year.

Permanent extension of coal miner health benefits

The new budget also includes a permanent extension of health care benefits to retired coal miners. The existing legislation, which was set to expire, would have left up to 120,000 retired coal miners and their spouses without health care. Losing health care benefits would have been devastating to the fire and EMS agencies that provide services to this population.

Enacting new AFG, SAFER legislation

With the passing of this year’s spending plan and the inclusion of AFG and SAFER funding at the previous levels, firefighters can take a short respite before we get back to the fight to enact new AFG and SAFER legislation. The current program is only funded through 2017 and contains a sunset provision which ends the current program.

To continue AFG and SAFER the House and Senate need to pass new legislation authorizing a funding program for the nation's fire and EMS services. Senators John McCain, Jon Tester, Susan Collins and Tom Carper introduced the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act to reauthorize AFG and SAFER. The proposed program would include a modest increase to $405 million for each program and be authorized until 2023. The bill received co-sponsorship from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate.

Last year, departments across the country handled over 30 million emergency calls. In addition, nearly 85,000 Americans are employed in the manufacturing sector that produces fire and emergency services equipment. If this legislation is not approved, then the AFG, SAFER and FP&S programs will be permanently eliminated on Jan. 2, 2018 because of a sunset provision contained in the current legislation.

If your department has been the recipient of an AFG, SAFER or FP&S Award, please take a minute and inform your elected officials just how important that award was to your community. These programs help to address the baseline needs of our community’s emergency service agencies. Without them, it would be difficult for local departments to provide training for their personnel and to purchase the equipment and apparatus required for today’s emergency responses.

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