As Congress produces its budget for Fiscal Year 2013, the IAFF is working to make sure that significant resources are invested in our nation’s first responders.

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Local 341 president Jeffrey Caynon testified March 7 before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security on the proposed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) budget. Caynon, a 16 -year veteran of the fire service, urged committee members to reverse funding cuts to the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) programs.

“Among the most effective federal programs to assist local communities in protecting the homeland are the SAFER and FIRE Act grant programs, which provide funding directly to local fire departments to ensure such departments have sufficient personnel, equipment and training to operate safely and effectively,” Caynon said.

“All of this translates into improved public safety.”

Under the proposed budget for next year, SAFER and Fire Act programs would each receive $670 million – $335 million each. For Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, the programs were funded at a total of $810 million. For this year’s budget, funding was reduced to $675 million with each program receiving $337.5 million each.

The IAFF is urging Congress to restore funding to $810 million for fiscal year 2013.

Caynon served as a panel witness with other public safety leaders who discussed the proposed budget, including: Ross Ashley, executive director of the National Fusion Center Association; John

Holmes, deputy executive director for Port of Los Angeles; Jim Mullen, president of the National Emergency Management Association; and Michael DePallo, director and general manager for the Port Authority Trans Hudson Corporation.

The City of Houston has seen significant improvements in its preparedness and capabilities due to the significant investment made by Congress to the two programs, Caynon said. However, as the economy tries to stabilize municipalities across the country are still facing critical shortages. In places like Kansas City, the mayor is proposing to cut 105 fire positions due to the budget shortfall.

Caynon warned that deep departmental cuts were sure to increase response times.

“Reversing recent funding cuts to SAFER and FIRE Act grants will help remedy the damage done to local public safety budgets by the recession and ensure that communities have the resources to protect the homeland,” he said.

With the outbreak of tornadoes last week devastating parts of the Midwest and South, members of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security were also asked to rethink cuts to the Urban Search and Rescue Response System (US&R). The US&R system is made up of 28 national task forces consisting of highly-trained emergency personnel, including many IAFF members capable of responding to both natural and manmade disasters, including earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, acts of terrorism and catastrophic structure collapses. The 2013 budget cuts the program’s funding by $13.7 million, providing $27.513 million.

FEMA Director Craig Fugate defended the proposed budget before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security. He said FEMA is moving towards building a collective, national preparedness goal that will allow them to harness the agency’s resources instead of looking by jurisdiction.

“Everyone wants to protect their part of the budget,” Fugate said. “It is my responsibility to pass along the recommendation to achieve the goals we have,” he said.  “No cut is easy.”

The House Subcommittee on Homeland Security also heard concerns about FEMA’s proposal to consolidate 16 homeland security grant programs into a new National Preparedness Grant Program, which would be administered solely by states. The grants were established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to help improve state and local government preparedness, and each program was established to serve a specific need of public safety.

Witnesses testified that the merging of the grants could cause some priorities to not be served.

The IAFF will continue to work with its allies in Congress to maintain the proper funding levels for the SAFER and FIRE Act grant programs and that other resources are invested in our first responders.