IAFF Helps Prevent Cuts to Firefighter Grant Programs
Updated On: Mar 01, 2011
Grassroots Efforts Help Prevent Massive Cuts to Fire Fighter Grant Programs
Overcoming long odds, fire fighters nationwide scored a significant victory when the U.S. House of Representatives voted 318-113 to reject massive cuts to fire fighter grants.
The IAFF's grassroots action this week quickly mobilized as thousands of IAFF members and friends besieged the Capitol Hill Switchboard telling their representatives to vote for the Pascrell Amendment to restore funding for two important federal grant programs.
Shortly after the vote, Politico wrote, “Given the power of the fire fighter lobby, the dike seemed to break when as many as 132 Republicans backed an amendment by Representative Pascrell (D-NJ) to restore $510 million for Homeland Security grants for first responders.”
Under H.R. 1 -- House legislation to continue funding the federal government – the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program would have been completely eliminated, and the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grants would have been cut by more than 20 percent.
Recognizing the threat to fire fighter safety, Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) offered an amendment to restore funding for the two programs. The amendment passed February 16 with a large bipartisan majority.
“This week, our nation’s fire fighters spoke with a united voice against the irresponsible cuts to public safety which were proposed in the House,” says IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “Congress heard our message loud and clear and stood up for what was right. Today, because of the efforts of this great union and the support of 318 U.S. Representatives, funding for the SAFER program has been restored and cuts to FIRE Act grants have been reversed.”
On February 15, President Schaitberger met with Representatives Price and Pascrell to discuss strategy for passing the bill, and immediately after, IAFF members began making calls to Capitol Hill.
The SAFER program, originally designed to increase staffing levels, has proven to be invaluable to fire departments facing layoffs during the current economic downturn. Thousands of fire fighters have been able to return to work because of the funding.
Despite the popularity of both the SAFER and FIRE Act programs, restoring the cuts was a difficult vote for many members of Congress. H.R. 1 was the first attempt by the new Congress to demonstrate their commitment to fiscal restraint and their willingness to cut the budget. Hundreds of amendments had been offered, and very few have mustered sufficient votes to pass. Of those which have prevailed, many cut additional funds from various programs, making passage of the Pascrell amendment to restore funds even more significant.
“Passing the Pascrell amendment is a great victory for our nation’s fire fighters,” says Schaitberger. “However, our job is not yet complete. Congress must extend the SAFER waivers to ensure that we can stem the tide of fire fighter layoffs currently plaguing so many communities.”
Representative David Price (D-NC) has offered an amendment restoring the SAFER waivers to allow fire departments to use grant funds to rehire or retain personnel. These waivers expired in Fiscal Year 2010. If they are not extended, fire departments will be unable to use SAFER grants to rehire laid-off fire fighters, fill positions lost to attrition or prevent potential layoffs. Additionally, departments would be required to fulfill burdensome budgetary requirements, which, in the current economy, few departments would be able to meet.
The Price amendment will be considered later this week, after which the House will vote on final passage of H.R. 1, before sending it to the Senate for consideration. The IAFF will continue lobbying to protect the SAFER and FIRE Act programs as the process continues.