Official explains homeland funding

Department of Homeland Security

The Homeland Security Department's liaison to state and local governments said the federal government prefers to funnel money to first responders through states because they're in a better position to plan strategically.

Nevertheless, he said the department is sensitive to local governments' needs and will try to get some funds to them directly.

During an April 22 Webcast sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Josh Filler, DHS' director of state and local government coordination, fielded a number of questions relating to the approximately $2.23 billion in fiscal 2003 supplemental funds earmarked for first responders. The Justice Department's Office for Domestic Preparedness will administer the funds.

"We are literally, as we speak, going over the numbers and making recommendations how that [money] should be rolled out in the coming weeks ahead," said Filler, who also was an aide in former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration.

In the past year, state and local government officials have complained about the federal government's delay in providing promised funds. Fearing even further delays, local officials, particularly, have also called for direct funding to cities and counties rather than have the money channeled through the states.

Filler said state governments need "to play the role of strategic thinker and strategic planner" when distributing the funds to communities.

But he said the federal government is committed to funding first responders by mandating a certain amount of money and specifying a specific timeframe. For example, of the $2.23 billion in supplemental funds, $1.3 billion is a general grant program in which 80 percent is dedicated to first responders. He said states have 45 days to pass that money to municipalities once they receive it.

In addition, $200 million of the supplemental funds is allocated for critical infrastructure grants — with no less than 50 percent going to locals — and $700 million is earmarked for high-density urban areas. Because another major local concern has been overtime expenses associated with homeland security, portions of both shares will be set aside to offset overtime costs related to critical infrastructure protection, Filler said.

When asked whether the $700 million allocation for urban areas has to go through states, Filler said that's a "tough one." The federal government wants local officials to get funds quickly, but it also has an "obligation and duty" to make sure any dollars are based on a plan.

"I don't want to rule it out, but I don't want to make a promise," he said.

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