WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes (both D-Md.) criticized the lack of essential funding for America's firefighters in President Bush's FY 2007 budget, which was released today. Federal fire grants are distributed through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.
The President's budget cuts $244 million in federal support for the AFG program. The program was funded at $524.44 million for FY 2006, and is funded at only $280.5 million based on today's figures. In addition, the President's budget eliminates funding for firefighter staffing (SAFER) grants, which received $105.8 million in FY 2006.
"How can the President support Homeland Security when he has cut the most valuable funding source for America's firefighters? We need to support our first responders with more than just words," said Senator Mikulski. "Firefighters risk their lives to protect others. We need to protect our protectors with the best equipment training and resources. I will continue to fight this year for a federal investment in the safety of our first responders."
"I was sorely disappointed and dismayed to see that in its FY 2007 Budget Request, the Administration has yet again failed our Nation's firefighters by slashing funds for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program," said Senator Sarbanes. "The FIRE grant program is a modest, proven investment that gets critical equipment directly into the hands of those on the front lines of our efforts to maintain the safety of our local communities. These cuts offer yet another example of the Administration's misguided priorities."
The AFG is a competitive grant opportunity for local fire departments and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) organizations that are not affiliated with a hospital. The AFG funds activities such as purchasing firefighting equipment, personal protection equipment, training, firefighting vehicles, and firefighter/first responder safety projects.
So far this funding cycle, Maryland fire departments have received 62 fire grant awards totaling more than $8.86 million.
Senator Mikulski is a member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the AFG program and fights each year to increase federal money for the program. In 2004, the Senator introduced an amendment to the FY 2005 Homeland Security spending bill that would have increased federal funding for the program to its authorized level of $900 million. Senator Mikulski's amendment failed by a vote of 50-45, with 60 votes needed for passage.