[Excerpt] In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act—popularly called 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 activities related to the recruitment and retention of volunteers. The SAFER grant program is authorized through FY2010.
With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns have arisen that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively participate in the program. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) included a provision (section 603) that waives the matching requirements for SAFER grants awarded in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. The FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-32) included a provision authorizing the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive further limitations and restrictions in the SAFER statute for FY2009 and FY2010. Because of the statutory modifications made to SAFER’s applicant eligibility criteria in the ARRA and the FY2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act, the FY2009 SAFER application round is expected to commence later in the year than usual, likely sometime in the fall of 2009.
For FY2010, the Obama Administration proposed $420 million for SAFER, double the amount appropriated in FY2009. Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have also approved $420 million for SAFER in FY2010. The budget proposal for SAFER is likely to receive heightened scrutiny, given the national economic downturn and local budgetary cutbacks that many fire departments are now facing.
Concerns over local fire departments’ budgetary problems may also frame debate over the SAFER reauthorization, which is included in H.R. 3791, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2009. Congress will likely consider whether some SAFER rules and restrictions governing the hiring grants should be permanently eliminated or altered in order to make it economically feasible for more fire departments to participate in the program.
This report will be updated as events warrant.