Two senators want more money for first responders

Two Democratic senators want to restore proposed funding and add billions of dollars for local police, firefighters and other first responders to next year’s budget.

During a press conference yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), ranking minority member on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said President Bush’s proposed fiscal year 2007 budget cuts first responder program funds by $802 million, to a level 23 percent less than this year.

Lieberman said he would offer an amendment during the budget resolution debate to add $8.1 billion to governmentwide homeland security funding, including first responder funds, according to a press release.

Although the senators didn’t list the programs they were talking about in the press releases they issued yesterday, the Bush administration has proposed cutting several first responder funding programs altogether, including the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants program and Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, and gutting several others, such as the Community Oriented Policing Services program and Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program.

However, Bush is also proposing to consolidate several funding programs. Representatives of first responders said consolidation means increased competition for funds. First responders say cuts will hamper their ability to buy interoperable communications equipment and other necessities.

Reid said the proposed budget would leave ports and train systems vulnerable and remove police officers from the streets.

Lieberman called the cuts a risky assault on such programs, especially since Hurricane Katrina showed how unprepared the country is for a catastrophe.

“There is no cheap way to be better prepared,” Lieberman said in a prepared statement. “It takes money – more money than the administration’s budget offers.”

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