Welfare a model for homeland?

Could federal funding for antiterrorism efforts be modeled after welfare reform, with states given flexibility over how to use funds for homeland security?

South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow floated that suggestion during the National Governors Association (www.nga.org) winter meeting Feb. 26 in Washington, D.C., and it intrigued several visiting Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Janklow said South Dakota is different from Bronx, N.Y., and Tallahassee, Fla., in terms of geography and population. He said there's "no way realistically" the state's communities can apply for homeland security funding because they don't have the resources or expertise that larger municipalities have.

Under welfare reform, the federal government provided block grants to the states, which took different approaches to offering benefits. Janklow said that by applying the welfare reform model to homeland security, states become "laboratories" to improve the first line of defense.

President Bush has proposed $3.5 billion to help the nation's first responders — police, firefighters and emergency ambulance personnel — to develop plans, help train, buy equipment, and conduct regular exercises. Under the plan, 75 percent of the funds will go directly to local governments, while 25 percent will be given to the states for their use.

Overall, Bush has proposed $38 billion for homeland security initiatives. Additionally, the federal government has made $1.1 billion available to states to help them plan against bioterrorism.

U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who spoke to the governors varied issues, said they'd support the flexibility of homeland defense funds. Portman said funds should be aimed at regional solutions as well. Another invited speaker, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), said states ought to be free to "implement laboratory creative responses. To not do that would be absurd."

But he said that there must be national guidelines established for certain issues, such as communication and information sharing, for states to work within.

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