Murray Includes Help for WA Communities to Hire Firefighters in Recovery Bill

Feb 17 2009

Final bill also includes $210 million nationwide for modifying, upgrading or constructing firehouses

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) praised a provision in the final Economic Recovery package that will help communities throughout Washington state and the nation hire new firefighters.  The language, which Senator Murray worked to include, will allow communities to accept valuable federal grants to hire firefighters without requiring them to provide matching funding as a condition of the grant.  The final language was similar to an amendment to the bill that Senator Murray had introduced with Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in the Senate.

“Fire departments need help,” said Senator Murray. “But due to budget cuts they haven’t been able to take advantage of the help the federal government has been providing. In fact, communities have already turned down millions in help because they could not afford to match the grants.  This amendment ensures that firefighters and the safety of our communities don’t fall victim to state and local budget cuts. It will also help to create new family-wage jobs in Washington state at a time when they are desperately needed.”

“Finding funds to hire new fire fighters and increase fire protection services is always difficult, and is especially so now as city and fire district budgets suffer,” said Kelly Fox, President of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters.  “This language will help communities across Washington access much-needed federal dollars to hire additional fire fighters, creating new, good-paying jobs and improving public safety.”

The language included in the bill applies to Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants, which were created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations in order to hire new firefighters. The grants, which are distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), currently require local governments to pay an increasing proportion of the salary for a 4-year period and must absorb the entire cost of the position in the final 5th year. For communities struggling with the effects of this recession, these costs have been too much to bear and at least twenty communities across the country have declined over $17.5 million in SAFER grant dollars.

To deal with the extraordinary economic downturn, the Stimulus bill would allow FEMA to waive the local match requirement as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 and 2010 SAFER grant program.  It is estimated that SAFER Grants could create at least 3,000 new firefighter positions nationwide over the next two years.  Because SAFER Grant dollars for 2009 have already been appropriated, the language added no funding to the overall Stimulus bill. 

Additional Help for Firefighters in Economic Recovery Bill

The Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act also includes $210 million in competitive grants to   modify, upgrade or construct non-Federal fire stations. The Department of Homeland Security has estimated that this funding could create 2,000 jobs nationwide.

The final Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act is expected to pass the Senate and House of Representatives in the coming days and be sent to President Obama to be signed into law.