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Rep. Pascrell Supports Fire Service Program Reauthorization

As an original author of these critical grant programs, Pascrell was critical of House delays and 'sunset' provision

Today, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) released the following statement after the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant program, and the Fire Prevention and Safety programs by voice vote.

"As an original author of the law that created the fire grant programs, the House taking action to reauthorize these important programs today is a positive step. However, there was no good reason for the House waited to act until the programs were two weeks away from expiration. And unlike the Senate-passed legislation, this bill includes a detrimental ‘sunset’ clause," Rep. Pascrell said. “A Senate-passed bill has been languishing in the House since August and the House failed to consider the bipartisan House version of that bill I introduced with my fellow Congressional Fire Services Caucus co-chairs. This delay created unnecessary anxiety and uncertainty among local fire departments that rely on this critical federal funding for equipment and training. In that same vein, the sunset provision creates a situation where states and localities and tens of thousands of fire departments across our nation are left wondering about the future of the federal funding they rely on to keep their communities safe. This sunset is unnecessary and this bill should have eliminated it.”

Background on AFG, FP&S, and SAFER Grant programs

Congress created these grant programs to help address the significant staffing, equipment, training, and health and safety needs of fire departments. The SAFER Grant program provides funding to cover the costs associated with hiring personnel to maintain safe staffing levels. The AFG program makes funds available for fire departments to purchase equipment, provide training, and meet other fire department needs. The FP&S Grant program provides assistance to fire departments to support projects that enhance the safety of the public and firefighters from fire and related hazards in order to reduce injury and prevent death among high-risk populations. The current authorization for these vital programs expired on September, 30 2017.

In March of 1999, Representative Pascrell introduced the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act, the first comprehensive legislation dedicated to meet the special needs of America's 32,000 volunteer, paid and part-paid fire departments. In its final version, the FIRE Act authorized $400 million over two years in competitive grants to the nation's local fire departments. Rep. Pascrell also originally sponsored the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) legislation, which became law in 2003. The SAFER program makes grants to local fire departments to assist in the hiring of firefighters.

In September 2017, Representative Pascrell and Representatives Peter King (R-NY), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Dave Reichert (R-WA), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017, which renews vital federal funding streams for local fire departments.

Full Statement from Representative Pascrell on Reauthorizing AFG, FP&S, and SAFER Grant programs

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of the United States Fire Administration, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant program, and the Fire Prevention and Safety programs.

As an original author of these critical grant programs, I understand their importance to the firefighting community. It is often local firefighters who are the first on the scene before help from elsewhere can arrive. Our first responders provide immediate assistance to those in need; and these grants enable local firefighters across our nation to receive the training and equipment necessary to fulfill this important mission.

The proper training and equipment provided to local firefighters by the AFG and SAFER grant programs and Fire Prevention and Safety programs can often mean the difference between life and death.

It is unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, that it took so long for the House to act on reauthorizing these important federal grants. We have had nearly an entire year for the Majority to introduce a bill, have it considered in committee, and see action on the House floor. Or simply, we could have just considered S. 829, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent on August 2, 2017.

I even introduced H.R.3881, a House version of the Senate-passed legislation and co-led a letter with 153 members of this House to show support for reauthorizing these grant programs. However, no action was taken to reauthorize these critical grant programs until today.

The bill before us today makes meaningful and technical changes to the administration of these grant programs. One important change this bill makes, that I know is significant to my home state of New Jersey and fire departments across the nation, is permitting the use of these grants to permit the use of grants to change the status of part-time or paid-on-call firefighters to full-time firefighters.

However, unlike the Senate bill, the bill before us today continues to have a dreadful sunset clause. Typically, the Congress sunsets programs to ensure there is an opportunity to review the importance of a program’s continuation and that there is no waste, fraud, or abuse. Since the establishment of these fire programs, there have been no major issues with waste, fraud, or abuse – and we certainly cannot dispute the major benefits these programs provide. So it is a wonder why some are insisting on sunsetting these critical grant programs in this bill.

This sunset causes needless anxiety, which many have been feeling this year as the House is only now reauthorizing these programs just two weeks before they’re set to expire. This is a situation where states and localities and tens of thousands of fire departments across our nation are left wondering about the future of critical funding they rely on to keep their communities safe. This sunset is unnecessary and we should eliminate it.

It is not an understatement to say that the funding provided by these programs has saved countless lives. The federal resources these grants have provided fire departments with the equipment, training and staffing needed to swiftly respond to over 30 million calls annually. These programs also have improved firefighters’ response capabilities and prevented numerous fires through safety programs targeted toward high-risk populations.

Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues Congressman Peter King, Steny Hoyer and Dave Reichert as co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and for their tireless work on behalf of our nation’s fire service.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to encourage my colleagues in this chamber to support the reauthorization of these critical grant programs. Thank you and I yield back.

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