US Se­na­tors urge fed­eral re­sources for first re­spon­ders

The Dundalk Eagle - - NEWS -

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.

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