H.R. 3791: Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009

H.R. 3791

Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009

Date
November 18, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3791 on Wednesday, November 18, 2009, under a rule making in order one Manager's Amendment and five other amendments.  H.R. 3791 was introduced on October 13, 2009, by Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) and referred to the Committee on Science and Technology, which held a mark-up and reported the bill, as amended, by a voice vote on October 21, 2009.

Bill Summary

H.R. 3791 reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) programs within FEMA. 

Assistance to Firefighters Grants

The bill reauthorizes the AFG program at $1 billion per year from FY 2010 to FY 2014.  While current authorization levels are $1 billion, $390 million was appropriated for AFG grants in FY 2010.  H.R. 3791 includes a Sense of Congress that addresses this discrepancy, stating:

The House-passed conference report for the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010 appropriates $390 million for activities under such section 33, a decrease of over 30 percent below that provided in fiscal year 2009; declining funding reduces the Director's ability to successfully carry out the primary purpose of such section, which is to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel throughout the Nation against fire and fire-related hazards; and halting and reversing the decline in appropriations to ensure a high level of funding for the activities under such section 33 should be a top priority.

According to research, fire grants have proven ineffective, and have not reduced deaths or injuries for either firefighters or civilians.

H.R. 3791 requires that all AFG grants be made on a competitive basis for the following uses:

  • To fire departments of a State, in consultation with the chief executive of the State, for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel throughout the nation against fire and fire-related hazards;
  • To State fire training academies, in consultation with the chief executive of the State;
  • Assistance for fire prevention and firefighter safety research and development programs and fire prevention or fire safety programs and activities; and
  • Assistance for volunteer, non-fire service EMS and rescue organizations.

The bill sets aside 10 percent of the funds for AFG grants to be used to make grants to fire departments for fire prevention programs.  This money is to be awarded to national, State, local, or community organizations that are not fire departments.  H.R. 3791 requires that priority be given to organizations that focus on prevention of injuries to high risk groups from fire, and research programs that demonstrate the potential to improve firefighter safety.

The bill lowers the non-federal matching requirement for larger departments from 15 percent to 10 percent, while retaining the five percent match for small departments.  H.R. 3791 provides the Director of FEMA the authority to provide an "economic hardship waiver" that would waive or deduce the matching requirement. 

The bill provides a new framework for fire department grant recipients, requiring that 25 percent of all funds be made available to career fire departments (made up of paid, usually unionized, firefighters); 25 percent made available to volunteer fire departments; and 25 percent to combination fire departments.  Current law does not distinguish between different types of departments.  In the past, volunteer fire departments often received a higher percentage of funding when competitively bid.  This change is likely meant to address concerns of "career" firefighters who were not receiving the same percentage of funds. 

H.R. 3791 increases the maximum allowable grant size depending on the size of population served by a department (ranging from $1 million for smaller jurisdictions to $9 million for larger jurisdictions).  In addition, the bill would allow the Director of FEMA to award grants in excess of these limits if he/she determines that "extraordinary need for assistance by a jurisdiction warrants a waiver."  Among the limitations on the use of the Assistance to Firefighters grants, no more than 25 percent of the funds can be used to purchase vehicles. 

The bill allows funding to be used to provide grants to institutes of higher education, a national fire service organization, or a national fire safety organization to establish and operate a fire safety research center.  It specifies that the Director can establish no more than three fire safety research centers with this funding.  The purpose of this funding would be to reduce the number of fire-related deaths and injuries among firefighters and the general public.

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response

H.R. 3791 expands the SAFER grant program which makes grants to increase staffing levels at fire departments.  The bill authorizes this program at $1.2 billion per year from FY 2010 to FY 2014.  Similar to AFG grants, this authorization level is equal to current authorization levels, but considerably higher than current appropriations ($420 million in FY 2010). 

The bill includes a provision allowing firefighters hired with funds from the grant to be volunteers in other jurisdictions during off-duty hours without discrimination.  Such an employee would be protected from being prohibited from engaging in any other volunteer work. 

H.R. 3791 requires that at least 10 percent of funds be made available to departments with a majority of volunteer personnel.  In addition, the bill requires that 10 percent of the total amount of funds be made to a competitive grant program for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefights who are involved with or trained in the operations of firefighting and emergency responses. 

The bill provides new authority to the Director of FEMA to waive the requirements under "exceptional circumstances" that federal funds supplement, rather than supplant, local funds. H.R. 3791 also reduces the length of grant period to three years, and reduces the local match requirement to 20 percent from 30 percent.  The bill also eliminates the cap on the maximum allowable grant size per firefighter which was previously $100,000. 

Study and Report

H.R. 3791 would require a study and report on the AFG program to be made within two years to relevant Congressional committees.  The bill authorizes $300,000 for this study and report.

Background

The AFG program competitively awards funds to local fire departments to purchase emergency response equipment and training.  SAFER competitively awards grants to departments for the hiring, recruitment, and retention of firefighters.  Both programs are administered by FEMA, and serve to subsidize the routine firefighting and emergency medical service responsibilities of local governments by helping to purchase equipment, and pay salaries. 

AFG and SAFER were established in the 2001 and 2005 Department of Defense Authorization bills, respectively.  This is the first time that either program will be considered by the House in stand-alone legislation.

Cost

CBO estimates that implementing the legislation would cost about $6.0 billion over the 2010-2014 period and $3.8 million thereafter, assuming appropriation of the specified amounts.  Enacting H.R. 3791 would not affect direct spending or revenues.  H.R. 3791 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) and would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal governments.

Amendments

AMENDMENTS

1)    Rep. Titus (D-NV):  The amendment would expand the scope of the Assistance to Firefighter Grants program to allow the acquisition of new equipment that reduces the use of water in fighting fires and training firefighters.

2)      Rep. Perlmutter (D-CO):  The amendment would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a nationwide survey of all fire departments to determine their compliance with national voluntary consensus standards for staffing, training, safe operations, personal protective equipment, and fitness.  The amendment also establishes a task force to enhance fire service and make recommendations to Congress on ways to increase compliance with those firefighter safety standards.  It authorizes such sums to fund this new nationwide survey. 

3)    Rep. Flake (R-AZ):  The amendment would prohibit earmarking of funds appropriated under the Act.

4)    Rep. Holden (D-PA):  The amendment would make river rescue organizations eligible for funding under the definition of a rescue organization.  The amendment defines a river rescue organization as one that provides emergency search and rescues  services to a person affected by a flood, a water-related accident, or another disaster for which services, including water rescue and patrol, dive rescue and recovery, emergency first response, flood recovery, or fire and rescue services on the water, are required.

5)    Rep. Cardoza (D-CA):  The amendment would require the Director to consider the unemployment rates of the area affected when awarding grants to fire departments.  This consideration would be in addition to considering the overall financial situation of fire departments.