Democrats push for more homeland security, first responder funds

Senate Democrats plan to introduce an amendment to increase homeland security and emergency responder funding by $6.8 billion to the fiscal 2005 budget resolution, including money for interoperable communications equipment.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who's sponsoring the amendment, is proposing an additional $4.4 billion earmarked for first responders, $900 million for port security, $500 million for bioterrorism preparedness, $500 million border security, and $500 million for securing air cargo and mass transit systems.

Some of the funds would be used to restore cuts proposed for several programs, such as the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, Community Oriented Policing Services, and Byrne Formula Grant programs, which Democrats said have been reduced by $1.8 billion since 2002. About $1 billion would be set aside so first responders can purchase interoperable communications equipment. The spending would be offset by a reduction in tax cuts for those earning $1 million a year, according to the proposal.

"Some will say we cannot afford these investments," said Lieberman, a former Democrat presidential candidate, in a press release. "I strongly disagree. We could pay much more by not making these investments. The administration's national security officials attest to the ongoing and very real threat of terrorism, yet its budget reflects more of a business-as-usual approach."

Democrats have been extremely critical of the administration's proposed budget. Homeland security has improved, but not enough, say Democratic members of Congress. They also charge the administration is short-changing first responders.

In the fiscal 2005 budget, President Bush has proposed $47.4 billion for homeland security activities across 32 federal agencies, an increase of 15 percent increase from this year's level. The Homeland Security Department has requested $40.2 billion for next year, including about $4.4 billion in information technology.

Although the administration is seeking $3.6 billion in first responder funds next year, DHS officials have said the department has allocated or awarded more than $8 billion to state and local first responders over the last year.

A new analysis released by Virginia-based market research firm Input said state and local governments stand to gain $6.9 billion in DHS grants for fiscal 2004. According to the Input report issued today, three major programs account for more than half of the 2004 funds:

* $2.2 billion to states for first responder equipment, including protective gear, detection and decontamination equipment, interoperable communications and information sharing technologies and community programs involving citizen participation.

* $750 million in the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program for operations and firefighter safety, fire prevention, emergency medical services and vehicles.

* $725 million to the Urban Areas Security Initiative to assist major homeland security needs, such as planning, training, and equipment for the most populous cites.

In fiscal 2003, DHS issued nearly $7.4 billion to state and local governments.

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