Cities, counties want block-grant concept applied to homeland security
Even as President Bush pledges $3.5 billion to cities and counties for homeland
security, local officials are asking Congress for federal funds that do
not carry too many restrictions on how that money can be used.
Bush proposed the funding to help the "first responders" — state and
local government agencies that are often the first to respond to a crisis.
But city and county officials say they want to avoid seeing funds earmarked
for too-specific purposes, which limits their ability to invest the money
where they need it or to blend money coming from different revenue streams.
They also do not want federal money to pass through the coffers of cash-strapped
states, because they fear it would never be distributed.
"The main issue is that if the money goes through the state, it doesn't
go to the local communities," said Mayor Karen Anderson of Minnetonka, Minn.,
who also is president of the National League of Cities.
Many states, including Minnesota, face budget shortfalls, and Anderson
said she has "no assurance" that federal security funds given to the states
would be passed on to local governments.
So some officials seek the development of homeland security-related
block grants. They envision something akin to the federal Community Development
Block Grant (CDBG) program, which has provided annual direct financial assistance
to qualifying local governments since 1974. The idea there is that local
communities know best how to use the money because they know their own development
Late last November, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) introduced
the Homeland Security Block Grant Act, modeled on the CDBG. The bill, referred
to the Judiciary Committee, would provide $3 billion, with 70 percent of
the money going directly to more than 1,000 cities and counties that have
populations of 50,000 or more. The remaining 30 percent will go to states,
which will direct them to smaller communities.
Steve Kolodney, former chief information officer for Washington state,
said states are "reluctant to see the money bypass them." But Kolodney — now vice
American Management Systems Inc.'s state and local sector — said
states, like cities and counties, do not want to see a whole lot of restrictions
on federal funds.
In fact, the National Governors Association planned to send a letter
to federal government officials urging them to place the least amount of
restrictions on such funds, Kolodney said.
In a recent meeting with homeland security Director Tom Ridge, Anderson
said National League of Cities members encouraged him to consider "some
kind of mechanism to ensure that some of those funds go directly to cities
Similar remarks recently were made at the U.S. Conference of Mayors
annual winter meeting, with several mayors saying their cities are incurring
overtime expenses and wanting to know whether federal funds could cover
Under Clinton's bill, municipalities would be required to submit a plan
demonstrating how funds would improve public safety in response to a terrorist
threat. But locals would have wide latitude on how to use the funds, according
to the bill.
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