Because of incompetent and failed leadership in our 111th Congress, our Fire Grant program and our SAFER program funding--for which many organizations had made plans, assuming they were secure--are not secure. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow the type of failed leadership that we have tolerated for so long to continue. Thankfully yesterday, on February 17, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to extend specific waivers to the SAFER program, which was introduced by Congressman David Price of North Carolina. This action extends the waivers that Congress had approved allowing fire departments to use the grants to keep firefighters from being laid off and to rehire firefighters who had been laid off.
The waiver also allows departments an exemption from the matching portion of the original SAFER program and allows the money to be used without penalty if the city or community is unable to continue employment of the firefighter after the grant money expires. These are important exemptions, because many cities recognize the critical need to maintain staffing levels if only in the short term while other alternative funding sources and solutions are worked out.
Most municipalities understand that the continuing fiscal crisis in America is going to, by necessity, make this type of funding less accessible in the long term and are beginning to find intelligent and well-thought-out alternatives to federal support. However many of us still desperately need this federal support as we begin this transition back to a more locally funded model and a less federally dependent model. This resolution will protect the SAFER program for the continuation of fiscal year 2011. Congress failed last year to pass any budget whatsoever and so is has to continue to pass resolutions that provide funding in the absence of a standing budget.
As firefighters, it is important to remember that our votes count; when we send someone to office to work for us, we need to hold that person more accountable. The failure to pass a budget placed the SAFER Act and the FIRE Grant program in jeopardy. If one of us freelanced at a fire and failed to do what we were responsible for--such as ventilating the roof, placing other firefighters in tremendous jeopardy--we would be disciplined. We need to look at the record of the people we are sending to Congress. We do not need to agree with everything they stand for or everything they do, but we do need them to do the basic job they were sent to do: govern responsibly.
Firefighters must demand that this current Congress passes a budget. Whether we agree or disagree with the content of that budget, we need to have assurances that the monies we are making life-and-death decisions with are going to be there. Every indication is that our current level of funding may decrease, but whether it is or is not increased is not a question or the issue. The issue is that promises made should be promises kept, and if the grant is awarded to a town or community, it should not be something that is dependent on the actions of a new Congress. It is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is not a libertarian or independent issue. It's an issue of character. Demand that these government employees--our elected representatives--do their jobs. Remember, they work for you.