WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie B. Raskin and David Trone (all D-Md.), today sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Gaynor urging him to waive all state and local cost-share requirements for federal firefighting assistance through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). Local firefighters are on the front lines in every Maryland community, responding to COVID-related patients and keeping our cities and towns safe during this crisis.
“State and local governments now responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic downturn are faced with historically unprecedented revenue shortfalls,” wrote the lawmakers. “Budgets will undoubtedly come under stress and sacrifices may have to be made. But we cannot afford to cut corners on emergency preparedness to save costs.”
Typically, state and local governments are required to contribute 25 percent of awards made through these programs, which provide funds directly to local fire departments. The SAFER grant program enhances the ability of fire departments around the country to attain and maintain 24-hour staffing. The AFG program provides grants to fire departments, nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Services organizations, and state fire training academies to enhance their ability to protect the health and safety of the public, as well as that of first-responder personnel.
The delegation has strongly supported state and local requests for assistance in responding to COVID-19. On April 10th, they wrote to President Trump urging him to waive all cost-sharing requirements for assistance under the Emergency Declaration and related Major Disaster Declarations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
April 21, 2020
Dear Administrator Gaynor:
We write as Members of the Maryland Congressional Delegation to strongly urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to waive state and local cost-share requirements for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) programs.
Ordinarily, the federal government is responsible for paying at most 75 percent of the costs of hiring firefighters for this program in the first and second years of this program. The FEMA Administrator has the authority to waive state and local cost-share requirements by raising the federal portion to 100 percent in cases of demonstrated economic hardship.
State and local governments now responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and consequent economic downturn are faced with historically unprecedented revenue shortfalls. Budgets will undoubtedly come under stress and sacrifices may have to be made. But we cannot afford to cut corners on emergency preparedness to save costs.
Firefighters provide our communities with essential insurance against the damage of fire emergencies. Fire is a risk to lives, property, and infrastructure that is real and deserving of our consideration even as we grasp with a viral outbreak. Substantial portions of the labor involved come from the service of dutiful volunteers.
In Maryland, many local volunteer fire departments expect drastically reduced collections and donations from their respective communities. Several Maryland county executives have written to us and called for a waiver of the requirements for local matches to existing and future SAFER and AFG grants. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) also supports this request.
You action would provide significant relief to fire departments in both urban and rural jurisdictions. In a public health and now economic crisis unlike any other, Maryland desperately needs federal funding that can help alleviate budget shortfalls while also ensuring that critical services such as fire protection and emergency response do not suffer are not put in jeopardy.
Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to your response.