as prepared for delivery
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 3791, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009. This bill reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Program. Over the past nine years, these programs have provided over $5 billion to purchase firefighting equipment and training and for communities to hire additional firefighters. This federal support for public safety is even more important in this tough economy as local officials struggle to provide services in the face of decreasing budgets.
The provisions in this bill make several changes to the program to enable more fire departments to apply for grants, and to ensure that the programs can benefit all types of communities, from small towns to our largest cities.
As part of this, the bill apportions the AFG funding between the career, volunteer, and combination fire departments according to a formula that authorizes a minimum of 25 percent of each year’s total AFG dollars for each type of department.
The bill also authorizes the Director to waive matching funds, budget maintenance requirements, and other requirements for fire departments facing exceptional economic hardship. It further lowers the matching requirement for AFG and modifies the matching structure for SAFER to make it easier for communities to plan for the commitment of a SAFER grant. The Science Committee heard testimony from fire service experts in July that particularly in this economy, the current matching requirements dissuaded some departments from applying. These provisions enable those fire departments with the most need to apply.
Finally, HR 3791 also increases the amount of money larger jurisdictions may apply for under the AFG program. These amounts better reflect the needs of larger metropolitan areas as well as fire departments that have been consolidated to provide unified coverage to a large area.
H.R. 3791 is the product of much hard work by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the National Fire Protection Association, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute, and has been endorsed by all of these groups. This bill also has bipartisan support and passed out of the Science and Technology Committee by voice vote.
I’d like to once again thank Mr. Mitchell for sponsoring this important legislation. I’d also like to recognize the efforts of our Subcommittee Chair Mr. Wu in getting the policy right in this bill, and working to get a consensus piece of legislation. Finally, I’d like to recognize staff who have been integral in crafting this legislation: Meghan Housewright and Mike Quear on the Majority staff, and Dan Byers on the Minority staff.
We have some amendments today, and I look forward to working with my colleagues today to make a good bill better.