US Senators urge federal resources for first responders
U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to increase funding and provide more flexibility for local firefighter departments through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants and Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG) programs.
“Our communities count on first responders as the first line of defense in protection and emergency response. These frontline workers are operating in environments that place them at high risk of COVID-19 exposure, and they deserve proper protection and support,” Senators Van Hollen and Cardin write. “The recently-released Senate draft of the fourth coronavirus relief package included $270 million less for these programs than the Housepassed HEROES Act, and did not include mandatory cost share, maintenance of effort, and employee retention waivers.”
“State and local governments now responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic downturn are faced with historically unprecedented revenue shortfalls. Budgets will undoubtedly come under stress and sacrifices may have to be made. But we cannot afford to cut corners on emergency preparedness to save costs,” they stress.
Senators Van Hollen and Cardin call for urgent action, citing dire budget shortfalls in Maryland and potential station closures. They write, “In Maryland, many local volunteer fire departments expect drastically reduced collections and donations from their respective communities. Already, two Baltimore City fire stations are facing closure because of financial strain caused by the pandemic. County executives from across Maryland have written to us and called for a waiver of the requirements for local matches to existing and future SAFER and AFG grants. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency has submitted waiver requests to FEMA, but have been unsuccessful. It is clear that statutory relief is needed.”
“Communities across the nation are relying on their first responders to weather this national crisis. Your support of these requests is critical to ensuring that the next relief package provides the resources our first responders need to meet that challenge,” they conclude.
In April, Senators Van Hollen and Cardin urged FEMA Administrator Gaynor to increase federal support for firefighters as the pandemic devastates state and local budgets. In May, Senator Van Hollen also pressed Senate negotiators for increased SAFER and AFG funds and flexibility in the next coronavirus relief package.