[Excerpt] In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act, known as the SAFER Act, was enacted by the 108th Congress as Section 1057 of the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-136). The SAFER Act authorizes grants to career, volunteer, and combination local fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry-minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. Also authorized are grants to volunteer fire departments for recruitment and retention of volunteers. SAFER is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns arose that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively and affordably participate in the program. From FY2009 through FY2015, annual appropriations bills contained provisions that waived certain provisions of the SAFER statute. The waivers served to reduce the financial obligation on SAFER grant recipients, and allowed SAFER grants to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters and to fill positions lost through attrition.
The 112th Congress enacted the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-239), which reauthorized SAFER through FY2017; altered the grant distribution formula among career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments; raised available funding for higher population areas; and addressed waiver issues previously addressed in annual appropriations legislation.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-31 ) provided $690 million for firefighter assistance in FY2017, including $345 million for AFG and $345 million for SAFER. For FY2018, the Administration requested $688.688 million for firefighter assistance, including $344.344 million for SAFER and $344.344 million for AFG, essentially matching the FY2017 level.
With the current authorization of SAFER and AFG expiring on September 30, 2017, and with the current SAFER and AFG statute containing a sunset provision for each program that goes into effect on January 2, 2018, the 115th Congress will likely consider legislation to reauthorize the SAFER and AFG programs. On April 5, 2017, S. 829, the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017, was introduced by Senator McCain and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. On May 17, 2017, the Committee ordered S. 829 to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute.
The 115th Congress will also consider budget appropriations for SAFER and AFG. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels for SAFER and AFG. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire community, given the local budgetary shortfalls that many fire departments face.