The Senate late yesterday evening unanimously accepted an amendment to reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs as well as the U.S. Fire Administration through Fiscal Year 2017. Specifically, an amendment to S. 3254, the National Defense Authorization Act, reauthorized the FIRE and SAFER grant programs and the .
"This is an important victory for America's fire and emergency service," said Chief Hank Clemmensen, IAFC's president and chairman, in a statement. "Fire service organizations and their allies in Congress worked many years to bring this legislation to fruition."
The amendment, sponsored by Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) and co-sponsored by Senators Susan Collins (ME), Thomas Carper (DE) and Scott Brown (MA), authorizes funding for USFA and the two grant programs through Fiscal Year 2017. In addition, the amendment makes improvements to the AFG and SAFER grant programs, including raising current grant caps, reducing the local match under FIRE, simplifying the local match under SAFER and providing waivers for communities facing significant economic hardship.
As a condition of the amendment's passage, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) insisted on a provision that would sunset the FIRE and SAFER grant programs in five years.
The Senate is expected to complete work on S. 3254 today. The bill then will be discussed when the House and Senate convene a conference to resolve difference between their respective measures, according to the Congressional Fire Services Institute. While the House already approved its version of the legislation on May 18th, their version does not contain reauthorization language for AFG, SAFER and USFA. Therefore, Senate negotiators still need to convince their House counterparts to retain the Senate language.
"We are very grateful to Senator Lieberman and the co-sponsors of this amendment for working diligently to bring reauthorization of these programs one step closer to reality," said Bill Webb, executive director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, in a statement. "We also extend our thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator John McCain, and Senator Carl Levin for their efforts."
The amendment includes a number of other reforms, such as ensuring a larger percentage of funding for fire prevention and safety; increasing award sizes for larger jurisdictions; and establishing economic hardship waivers for beleaguered communities that need to maintain their response capabilities but cannot meet the required local match.
The amendment is consistent with an agreement reached earlier this year by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
The Congressional Fire Service Institute issued an alert earlier this week to all members of the fire and emergency services to contact their U.S. Senators regarding the reauthorization of AFG, SAFER and the U.S. Fire Administration.
"I thank themembers who supported this critical legislation and the senators who stepped forward to ensure this support for fire departments," Clemmensen said. "I urge Congress to include this amendment in the final version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and President Obama to sign it into law."