First responders in 'dire need'
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Feb 12, 2003
Saying first responders are in "dire need" of help, two Democratic members
of Congress want to boost homeland security funding to the nation's police,
firefighters, emergency and public health workers by more than $10 billion
total for this year and the next.
Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.) want to double first responder funding — to $7.1 billion — in fiscal 2003. Late on Feb. 13, Congress approved an omnibus appropriations bill that allocates $3.5 billion to local communities. The pair had sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee to include an additional $3.5 billion, but said they would settle for including the additional funds in the fiscal 2003 supplemental bill.
They also want to nearly triple — to $10.6 billion — what President
Bush has proposed for the fiscal 2004 budget, which also is $3.5 billion.
"There's a threat to the American heartland," said Skelton, the ranking
member of the House Armed Services Committee, at a press conference with
Harman Feb. 13. The two Democrats plan to introduce a House resolution for the
The pair also sent a letter dated Feb. 10 to Reps. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and David Obey (D-Wis.) — the chairman and ranking minority member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Committee — regarding increasing first responder funding in the fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill and for a more rapid disbursal by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Office of Domestic Preparedness.
They said they've spoken with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and other administration officials about more first responder funding.
With the nation's threat level high and the United States poised for
a war against Iraq, terrorist attacks in the country are certain, Skelton
said. "There's a dire need, and there's a shortfall."
Harman, who is on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,
said the $3.5 billion in the fiscal 2003 omnibus bill contains only $870
million in "new money," which she defined as funding for areas not earmarked
Regardless of its allocation, she said it's not enough. There needs
to be a "right sized homeland security budget that funds the war at home,"
Indeed, in the past several months, state and local government officials
have complained — sometimes bitterly — about the federal government's
slow pace in providing such funds. While law enforcement continues to tap
into existing grants programs available to them, they said not one penny
of new homeland security funding has become available. The federal government
has largely provided new funding to improve the public health infrastructure.
Both Democrats said they think they'll pick up considerable support
from their colleagues.
To underscore the need, Harman introduced Chief R. Doyle Campbell, a
member of Los Angeles County's Sheriff's Department and head of the homeland
security office there, at the press conference.
The county — the largest in the country with 88 cities, 55 police departments
and 33 fire departments — needs at least $200 million to get to a "reasonable"
level of security, she said.
Campbell provided a list of improvements that require funding, including
interoperable communications equipment, training for biological, chemical
and radiological events, air respirators, and bomb disposal containers.
Law enforcement organizations, he said, have had to "shift gear drastically"
since Sept. 11, 2001, to deal with new types of threats.
He also said the county needs financial help from the federal government
because the weak economy is forcing the county to cut back funding.
Local officials projected that cities and counties have expended more
than $2.6 billion in providing security to their citizens. The day before
the press conference, the National League of Cities (NLC) released a survey
of 322 cities and towns indicating that bad fiscal conditions are forcing
cities to cut back police and firefighter positions.
Sixteen percent of cities cut police positions in the past year and
another 8 percent expect to cut police slots in the near future. Nine percent
of cities had forced cuts in firefighter positions and another 7 percent
plan to make similar cuts.
At a Feb. 12 press conference, John DeStefano Jr., the mayor of New
Haven, Conn., and NLC president, said the proposed 2004 federal budget short-changes
municipalities in local law enforcement grant programs and again promises
first responder funding even though cities are still waiting for similar
funds pledged in last year's budget.
"But this is like robbing Peter to pay Peter — taking money away from
police programs and then giving some of it back," he said in his statement.
He added that the NLC would push for a greater partnership with the federal
government in procuring funds and stimulating the economy.