LIPINSKI VOTES TO EXPAND AID FOR LOCAL FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Changes to grant programs will help departments buy equipment, hire firefighters during tough times
October 21, 2009
Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) voted today to provide more federal assistance for local fire departments to hire firefighters and purchase firefighting equipment. The Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009, which Lipinski helped introduce, will help cash-strapped local governments hurt by the recession to continue to keep residents safe and avoid service cuts and delays in making critical purchases. The act passed the House Science and Technology Committee.
"The most important duty of government is to provide for people's safety," Congressman Lipinski said. "But as their revenues dwindle due to the recession, local governments face tough choices. This bill reauthorizes and makes key improvements to two important firefighting grant programs to make sure the public's safety is not adversely impacted due to financial constraints owing to troubles in the broader economy."
Congressman Lipinski has helped dozens of local fire departments obtain federal fire safety grants. In total, Third District fire departments have obtained $4.75 million in such grants since Lipinski was first elected.
The bill makes beneficial changes to the Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) program and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants program. Lipinski strongly believes in the need to update both programs to make them more effective and has been pushing to move reauthorization of the fire grants act forward.
The AFG program provides money to pay for equipment, vehicles, and training. The SAFER program provides money for hiring firefighters. The bill authorizes $1 billion for AFG and $1.194 billion for SAFER. Both are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The bill directs more money to suburban and urban fire departments than in the past and gives priority to departments with larger populations and higher call volumes, giving departments in the Third District a better chance of winning grants.
The bill lowers the local matching requirement for an AFG grant to 10 percent for all departments serving populations of more than 20,000. Previously, it was 20 percent for departments serving populations over 50,000. It also includes clearer provisions for hardship waivers for departments that can't meet the matching requirement, and sharply increases the maximum grant for large departments, including Chicago's.
The SAFER program has been a five-year program requiring an escalating local match, with the local fire department responsible for paying 100 percent of the salaries of firefighters hired under the program in the fifth year. The new bill makes it a three-year program and provides for only a 20 percent local match each year, which will encourage more departments to take advantage of the program. In addition, it eliminates artificial limits on the amount of grant money available per firefighter. It also includes new hardship waivers for departments unable to meet the match requirement, as well as waivers for requirements that the money be used to hire additional firefighters rather than retain existing firefighters.
The bill has strong bipartisan support and has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the National Volunteer Fire Council.
"I'm proud to have helped introduce the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act," Lipinski said. "I continue to work closely with local communities to bring home money that improves the safety of the residents of the Third District. Strengthening crucial fire safety grant programs is an important part of that effort."
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