Thereâ€™s good news and bad news for the fire service, after President Obama released his $3.8 trillion FY 2013 budget request Monday. The president proposed cuts to several FIRE grants, while consolidating others. However, the budget includes $1 billion for immediate assistance to retain, rehire or hire firefighters â€” especially if they are U.S. military personnel returning home. It also allocates funds to support wildland firefighting and the build out of a nationwide, public-safety broadband network.
â€śTheis working with Congress to protect funding for programs that support the fire service in this tight budget environment,â€ť said Chief Al Gillespie, IAFC president and chairman, in a statement. â€śIt is important that the federal government continues to focus funding on programs that will help the local fire department protect its citizens.â€ť
FIRE grant funding in FY2013 will be cut by $2.5 million, to $335 million. A trend is emerging, said Dave Finger, NVFC director of government relations, as the federal government continues to reduce funding year after year. Itâ€™s a real concern, as Finger estimated a 10:1 ratio of applications received to grant dollars allocated.
â€śThereâ€™s certainly enough demand to fully fund both the AFG and SAFER programs under the FIRE grants,â€ť Finger said. â€śThe funding for these grants has been slowly eroding for the last six to seven years. Itâ€™s disappointing but not unexpected.â€ť
The NVFC also is concerned about the proposed $1.518 million cut to the U.S. Fire Administrationâ€™s budget, to $42.52 million.
â€śhas pretty much been cut consistently ever since the agency was placed under ,â€ť Finger said. â€śIt is to the point where they are cutting into the bone marrow. Thereâ€™s nothing left to cut.â€ť
The FIRE grants and USFA budget cuts are the NVFCâ€™s top concerns, Finger added.
Obama discussed employing jobless veterans in last monthâ€™s State of the Union address, so itâ€™s no surprise that he included an incentive to hire returning military personnel. The budget sets aside $1 billion for a First Responder Stabilization Fund to provide â€śimmediate assistanceâ€ť for the retention, rehiring and hiring of firefighters, with preference given to those departments that focus on the recruitment of post-9/11 veterans for firefighter positions.
In addition, Obama proposed an increase of $191 million, to $1.54 billion, for the National Preparedness Grant program. This programâ€™s allocations will be identified through the Threat Hazard Identification and Risk Assessments program, which will establish baseline funding for each state and a competitive funding pool to build new assets and capabilities, specifically those focused on building and sustaining core capabilities identified in Presidential Preparedness Directive-8 .
However, Finger said that the NVFC is concerned that the National Preparedness Grant program consolidates 16 homeland security grant programs that continually have their funding cut, including UASI, into a single program. He said that state-awarded funds that are allocated downward also may get lost in the web of bureaucracy.
â€śWe have yet to see how that will play out,â€ť Finger said.
Perhaps because of the massive wildfires and wildland-urban-interface issues that erupted in 2011, the Department of Agricultureâ€™s Wildland Fire Management program would receive $1.97 billion, a $233 million increase from FY 2012. Meanwhile, the Department of Interiorâ€™s Wildland Fire Management program would receive $726.5 million, a $160 million increase.
The budget also fully funds the 10-year average cost of wildland fire suppression operations and proposes $315 million for the FLAME fund under the Department of Agriculture, and $92 million for the FLAME fund under the Department of Interior.
Funding for the State Fire Assistance and Volunteer Fire Assistance programs--$55.5 million and $6.366 million, respectively â€” stays the same, with Rural Fire Assistance as an eligible expense under Wildland Fire Management.
Finally, the budget would support the much-anticipated construction of a nationwide, public-safety broadband network, including the allocation of the D Block to public safety, and $6.5 billion for the construction, operation and maintenance of the network. Finger noted there were still many unresolved issues. In addition, it was proposed in last yearâ€™s budget but wasnâ€™t approved by Congress, so it passage this year may be unlikely.
â€śThis could be resolved in the next month, or not resolved for another year,â€ť Finger said. â€śItâ€™s up to Congress to work something out so they can move forward [with the network].â€ť