Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 18th year. AFG assistance is distributed to career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments serving urban, suburban, and rural areas. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141) provided $700 million for firefighter assistance in FY2018, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER. For FY2019, the Administration requested $688.688 million for firefighter assistance, including $344.344 million for AFG and $344.344 million for SAFER. The Senate Appropriations bill (S. 3109) would provide $700 million for firefighter assistance, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER. The FY2019 House appropriations bill would provide the same funding level as the Senate bill.

On January 3, 2018, the President signed the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-98). P.L. 115-98 extends the AFG and SAFER authorizations through FY2023; extends the sunset provisions for AFG and SAFER through September 30, 2024; provides that the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) may develop and make widely available an online training course on AFG and SAFER grant administration; expands SAFER hiring grant eligibility to cover the conversion of part-time or paid-on-call firefighters to full-time firefighters; directs FEMA, acting through the Administrator of USFA, to develop and implement a grant monitoring and oversight framework to mitigate and minimize risks of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement related to the AFG and SAFER grant programs; and makes various technical corrections to the AFG and SAFER statute.

A continuing issue for the 115th Congress is how equitably and effectively grants are being distributed and used to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards. Another continuing issue is budget appropriations for AFG and SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels for AFG and SAFER. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire service community, given the local budgetary shortfalls that many fire departments may face.

Assistance to Firefighters Program: Distribution of Fire Grant Funding

Updated August 2, 2018 (RL32341)
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Contents

Summary

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program, also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398). Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs. A related program is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) program, which provides grants for hiring, recruiting, and retaining firefighters.

The fire grant program is now in its 18th year. AFG assistance is distributed to career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments serving urban, suburban, and rural areas. There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141) provided $700 million for firefighter assistance in FY2018, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER. For FY2019, the Administration requested $688.688 million for firefighter assistance, including $344.344 million for AFG and $344.344 million for SAFER. The Senate Appropriations bill (S. 3109) would provide $700 million for firefighter assistance, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER. The FY2019 House appropriations bill would provide the same funding level as the Senate bill.

On January 3, 2018, the President signed the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-98). P.L. 115-98 extends the AFG and SAFER authorizations through FY2023; extends the sunset provisions for AFG and SAFER through September 30, 2024; provides that the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) may develop and make widely available an online training course on AFG and SAFER grant administration; expands SAFER hiring grant eligibility to cover the conversion of part-time or paid-on-call firefighters to full-time firefighters; directs FEMA, acting through the Administrator of USFA, to develop and implement a grant monitoring and oversight framework to mitigate and minimize risks of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement related to the AFG and SAFER grant programs; and makes various technical corrections to the AFG and SAFER statute.

A continuing issue for the 115th Congress is how equitably and effectively grants are being distributed and used to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards. Another continuing issue is budget appropriations for AFG and SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels for AFG and SAFER. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire service community, given the local budgetary shortfalls that many fire departments may face.


Background

Firefighting activities are traditionally the responsibility of states and local communities. As such, funding for firefighters is provided mostly by state and local governments. During the 1990s, shortfalls in state and local budgets, coupled with increased responsibilities of local fire departments, led many in the fire community to call for additional financial support from the federal government. Although federally funded training programs existed (and continue to exist) through the National Fire Academy, and although federal money was available to first responders for counterterrorism training and equipment through the Department of Justice, there did not exist a dedicated program, exclusively for firefighters, which provided federal money directly to local fire departments to help address a wide variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related needs.

Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program

During the 106th Congress, many in the fire community asserted that local fire departments require and deserve greater support from the federal government. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), also known as fire grants or the FIRE Act grant program, was established by Title XVII of the FY2001 Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 106-398).1 Currently administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program provides federal grants directly to local fire departments and unaffiliated Emergency Medical Services (EMS) organizations to help address a variety of equipment, training, and other firefighter-related and EMS needs.

Since its establishment, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program has been reauthorized three times. The first reauthorization was Title XXXVI of the FY2005 Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-375), which authorized the program through FY2009. The second reauthorization was Title XVIII, Subtitle A of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-239), which authorized the program through FY2017 and modified program rules for disbursing grant money. The third and current reauthorization is the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-98), which authorizes the program through FY2023.

Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012

On January 2, 2013, President Obama signed P.L. 112-239, the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act. Title XVIII, Subtitle A is the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012, which authorized the fire grant program through FY2017 and made significant changes in how grant money would be disbursed. Table 1 provides a summary of key provisions of the 2012 reauthorization, and provides a comparison with the previously existing statute.

Table 1. Key Provisions of Fire Grant Reauthorization of 2012

Previous Statute
(15 U.S.C. 2229 and 15 U.S.C. 2229a)

Fire Grant Reauthorization Act of 2012
(Title XVIII
of P.L. 112-239)

Grant money allocation

volunteer and combination fire departments shall receive a proportion of the total grant funding that is not less than the proportion of the U.S. population that those departments protect

not less than 25% to career fire departments

not less than 25% to volunteer fire departments

not less than 25% to combination and paid-on-call fire departments

not less than 10% for open competition among career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments

5% (minimum) to fire prevention and safety grants

not less than 10% to fire prevention and safety grants

no fire prevention and safety grant may exceed $1.5 million

includes establishment of fire-safety research centers to conduct research to improve firefighter health and safety

no fire prevention and safety grant may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)

3.5% (minimum) to EMS provided by fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations

2% (maximum) to nonaffiliated EMS organizations

not less than 3.5% to EMS provided by fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations

not more than 2% to nonaffiliated EMS organizations

 

not more than 3% to State training academies, no more than $1 million per state academy in any fiscal year

 

not more than 25% for purchasing vehicles

Grant recipient limits

populations over 1 million—lesser of $2.75 million or 0.5% of total appropriation

populations of 500K to 1 million—$1.75 million

populations under 500K—$1 million

no single grant can exceed 0.5% of total funds appropriated for a single fiscal year

$9 million—over 2.5m population

$6 million—1m to 2.5m population

$3 million—500K to 1m population

$2 million—100K to 500K population

$1 million—under 100K population

DHS can waive the funding limits for populations up to 1 million in instances of extraordinary need; however the lesser of $2.75 million or 0.5% limit cannot be waived

FEMA may not award a grant exceeding 1% of all available grant funds, unless FEMA determines extraordinary need

Nonfederal match requirements

20% for populations over 50,000

10% for populations 20,000 to 50,000

5% for populations less than 20,000

15% for populations over 1 million

10% for populations 20,000 to 1 million

5% for populations under 20,000

No match requirement for nonfire department prevention and firefighter safety grants

5% match required for fire prevention and safety grants

Maintenance of expenditures

requires applicants to maintain expenditures at the same level as the average over the preceding two fiscal years

requires applicants to maintain expenditures at or above 80% of the average over the preceding two fiscal years

Economic hardship waivers

no economic hardship waivers available

waivers available for nonfederal matching and maintenance of expenditures requirements, FEMA will develop economic hardship waiver guidelines considering unemployment rates, percentages of individuals eligible to receive food stamps, and other factors as appropriate.

Authorization levels

FY2005—$900 million

FY2006—$950 million

FY2007—$1 billion

FY2008—$1 billion

FY2009—$1 billion

FY2013—$750 million

for each of FY2014-FY2017, an amount equal to the amount authorized the previous fiscal year, increased by the percentage by which the Consumer Price Index for the previous fiscal year exceeds the preceding year.

Congressionally Directed Spending

no provision

no funds may be used for any congressionally directed spending item (as defined under the rules of the Senate and the House of Representatives)

Sunset

none

the authority to award assistance and grants shall expire five years after the date of enactment

SAFER grants

grant period is 4 years, grantees are required to retain for at least 1 year beyond the termination of their grants those firefighter positions hired under the grant

shortens the grant period to three years, with no requirement that fire departments must retain SAFER funded firefighters for an extra year

year 1—10% local match
year 2—20% local match
year 3—50% local match
year 4—70% local match

year 1—25% local match
year 2—25% local match
year 3—65% local match

total funding over 4 years for hiring a firefighter may not exceed $100K, adjusted annually for inflation

for the first year, the amount of funding provided for hiring a firefighter may not exceed 75% of the usual annual cost of a first-year firefighter in that department at the time the grant application was submitted

for the second year, the amount of funding provided for hiring a firefighter may not exceed 75% of the usual annual cost of a first-year firefighter in that department at the time the grant application was submitted

for the third year, the amount of funding provided for hiring a firefighter may not exceed 35% of the usual annual cost of a first-year firefighter in that department at the time the grant application was submitted

state, local, and Indian tribal governments eligible for recruitment and retention funds

additionally makes national organizations eligible for recruitment and retention funds

 

allows FEMA, in the case of economic hardship, to waive cost share requirements, as well as the prohibition on supplanting local funds and maintenance of expenditure requirements (which would allow grants to be used for retention and rehiring laid-off firefighters)

authorized for 7 years starting at $1 billion in FY2004, ending at $1.194 billion in FY2010

reauthorizes the SAFER grant program at $750 million for FY2013; for each of FY2014-FY2017, an amount equal to the amount authorized the previous fiscal year, increased by the percentage by which the Consumer Price Index for the previous fiscal year exceeds the preceding year

no funds may be used for any congressionally directed spending item (as defined under the rules of the Senate and the House of Representatives)

authority to make grants shall lapse 10 years from November 24, 2003

the authority to award assistance and grants shall expire five years after the date of enactment

Source: Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012, Title VIII, Subtitle A of FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act, P.L. 112-239.

Fire Grants Reauthorization in the 115th Congress

With the authorizations of both the AFG and SAFER programs expiring on September 30, 2017, and with sunset dates for both programs of January 2, 2018, the 115th Congress considered reauthorization legislation.

Senate

On April 5, 2017, S. 829, the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 was introduced by Senator McCain and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. On May 17, 2017, the committee ordered S. 829 to be reported (S.Rept. 115-128) with an amendment in the nature of a substitute. On August 2, 2017, the Senate passed S. 829 by unanimous consent.

House

On July 12, 2017, the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Committee on Science, Space and Technology, held a hearing entitled U.S. Fire Administration and Fire Grant Programs Reauthorization: Examining Effectiveness and Priorities. Testimony was heard from the USFA acting administrator and from fire service organizations.2

On December 15, 2017, H.R. 4661, the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017, was introduced by Representative Comstock. H.R. 4661 was identical to the Senate-passed S. 829, except that while S. 829 repealed the sunset provisions for AFG and SAFER, H.R. 4661 extended the sunset dates to September 30, 2024. Additionally, H.R. 4661 reauthorized the USFA through FY2023.

On December 18, 2017, the House passed H.R. 4661 by voice vote under suspension of the rules. On December 21, 2017, the Senate passed H.R. 4661 without amendment by unanimous consent.

Other legislation related to the fire act reauthorization included H.R. 3881, the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017, introduced by Representative Pascrell, which was identical to S. 829 as passed by the Senate; and H.R. 1571, the Fire Department Proper Response and Equipment Prioritization Act, which was introduced by Representative Herrera-Beutler and would amend the FIRE Act statute to direct FEMA to give high-priority consideration to grants providing for planning, training, and equipment to firefighters for crude oil-by-rail and ethanol-by-rail derailment and incident response.

United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-98)

On January 3, 2018, the President signed the United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-98). P.L. 115-98

  • extends the AFG and SAFER authorizations through FY2023;
  • extends the sunset provisions for AFG and SAFER through September 30, 2024;
  • extends the USFA authorization through FY2023;
  • provides that the U.S. Fire Administration in FEMA may develop and make widely available an online training course on AFG and SAFER grant administration;
  • expands SAFER hiring grant eligibility to cover the conversion of part-time or paid-on-call firefighters to full-time firefighters;
  • directs FEMA, acting through the Administrator of USFA, to develop and implement a grant monitoring and oversight framework to mitigate and minimize risks of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement related to the AFG and SAFER grant programs; and
  • makes various technical corrections to the AFG and SAFER statute.

Appropriations

From FY2001 through FY2003, the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program (as part of USFA/FEMA) received its primary appropriation through the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies Appropriation Act. In FY2004, the Assistance to Firefighters Program began to receive its annual appropriation through the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Homeland Security.

The fire grant program is in its 18th year. Table 2 shows the appropriations history for firefighter assistance, including AFG, SAFER, and the Fire Station Construction Grants (SCG) provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Table 3 shows recent and proposed appropriated funding for the AFG and SAFER grant programs.

Table 2. Appropriations for Firefighter Assistance, FY2001-FY2018

AFG

SAFER

SCGa

Total

FY2001

$100 million

 

 

$100 million

FY2002

$360 million

 

 

$360 million

FY2003

$745 million

 

 

$745 million

FY2004

$746 million

 

 

$746 million

FY2005

$650 million

$65 million

 

$715 million

FY2006

$539 million

$109 million

 

$648 million

FY2007

$547 million

$115 million

 

$662 million

FY2008

$560 million

$190 million

 

$750 million

FY2009

$565 million

$210 million

$210 million

$985 million

FY2010

$390 million

$420 million

 

$810 million

FY2011

$405 million

$405 million

 

$810 million

FY2012

$337.5 million

$337.5 million

 

$675 million

FY2013

$321 million

$321 million

 

$642 million

FY2014

$340 million

$340 million

 

$680 million

FY2015

$340 million

$340 million

 

$680 million

FY2016

$345 million

$345 million

 

$690 million

FY2017

$345 million

$345 million

 

$690 million

FY2018

$350 million

$350 million

 

$700 million

 

$7.975 billion

$3.885 billion

$210 million

$12.1 billion

a. Assistance to Firefighters Fire Station Construction Grants (SCG) grants were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5).

Table 3. Recent and Proposed Appropriations for Firefighter Assistance

(millions of dollars)

 

FY2017 (P.L. 115-31)

FY2018 (Admin. request)

FY2018 (P.L. 115-141)

FY2019 (Admin. request)

FY2019 (S.Rept. 115-283)

FY2019 (House Approp.)

FIRE Grants (AFG)

345

344.344

350

344.344

350

350

SAFER Grants

345

344.344

350

344.344

350

350

Total

690

688.688

700

688.688

700

700

FY2016

The Administration's FY2016 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for AFG and $335 million for SAFER. Funding for management and administration would be drawn from a separate FEMA account (Salaries and Expenses). The Firefighter Assistance Grants would be categorized under First Responder Assistance Programs (FRAP), which is part of FEMA's State and Local Programs (SLP) appropriation.

On June 18, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported S. 1619, the Department of Homeland Security Act, 2016. Identical to the funding level in FY2015, the Senate bill would provide $680 million in firefighter assistance, including $340 million for AFG and $340 million for SAFER. The Senate bill would continue to fund firefighter assistance under its own separate account. In the accompanying report (S.Rept. 114-68), the committee directed DHS to continue the present practice of funding applications according to local priorities and those established by the USFA, and to continue direct funding to fire departments and the peer review process. The committee stated its expectation that funding for rural fire departments remain consistent with their previous five-year history, and directed FEMA to brief the committee if there is a fluctuation.

On July 21, 2015, the House Appropriations Committee approved H.R. 3128, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2016. The bill would provide $680 million in firefighter assistance, including $340 million for AFG and $340 million for SAFER. In the committee report (H.Rept. 114-215), the committee emphasizes the need for local first responders to be adequately prepared for crude- and ethanol-by-rail incidents and encourages FEMA to categorize AFG hazmat and other applications related to crude- and ethanol-by-rail preparation and response as "high priority."

On December 18, 2015, the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113). The law provided $690 million for firefighter assistance in FY2016, including $345 million for AFG and $345 million for SAFER. Firefighter assistance continued to be funded under its own separate appropriations account.

FY2017

For FY2017, the Obama Administration requested $335 million for AFG and $335 million for SAFER, a reduction of $10 million for each program from the FY2016 enacted level. The budget justification stated that the proposed reduction in AFG and SAFER "reflects FEMA's successful investments in prior year grants awarded."

Under the proposed budget, the AFG and SAFER grant accounts would be transferred to the Preparedness and Protection activity under FEMA's broader "Federal Assistance" account. According to the budget request, Federal Assistance programs will "assist Federal agencies, States, Local, Tribal, and Territorial jurisdictions to mitigate, prepare for and recover from terrorism and natural disasters."

On May 26, 2016, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved S. 3001, the Department of Homeland Security Act, 2017. The Senate bill would provide $680 million for firefighter assistance, including $340 million for AFG and $340 million for SAFER. The committee maintained a separate budget account for Firefighter Assistance and did not transfer that budget account to the Federal Assistance account as proposed in the Administration budget request. In the accompanying report (S.Rept. 114-68), the committee directed DHS to continue the present practice of funding applications according to local priorities and those established by the USFA, and to continue direct funding to fire departments and the peer review process. The committee stated its expectation that funding for rural fire departments remain consistent with their previous five-year history, and directed FEMA to brief the committee if there is a fluctuation.

On June 22, 2016, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2017. Unlike the Senate, the House Committee did transfer the Firefighter Assistance budget account into a broader Federal Assistance account in FEMA. The bill provided $690 million for firefighter assistance, including $345 million for AFG and $345 million for SAFER. In the committee report, the committee directed FEMA to continue administering the fire grants programs as directed in prior year committee reports, and encouraged FEMA to ensure that the formulas used for equipment accurately reflect current costs.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (P.L. 115-31) provided $690 million for firefighter assistance in FY2017, including $345 million for AFG and $345 million for SAFER. Money is to remain available through September 30, FY2018. The firefighter assistance account was transferred to FEMA's broader Federal Assistance account.

FY2018

For FY2018, the Administration requested $688.688 million for firefighter assistance, including $344.344 million for AFG and $344.344 million for SAFER, slightly below the FY2017 level. AFG and SAFER are under Grants in the Federal Assistance budget account.

On July 18, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2018 (H.R. 3355; H.Rept. 115-239). The bill provided $690 million for firefighter assistance under the Federal Assistance budget account, including $345 million for AFG and $345 million for SAFER. In the bill report, the committee encouraged FEMA to give high-priority consideration to grants providing for planning, training, and equipment to firefighters for crude oil-by-rail and ethanol-by-rail derailment and incident response.

On September 14, 2017, the House passed H.R. 3354, a FY2018 omnibus appropriations bill that includes funding for AFG and SAFER. During floor consideration, the House adopted an amendment offered by Representative Kildee that added $20 million to SAFER; thus H.R. 3354 would provide $345 million for AFG and $365 million for SAFER.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141) provided $700 million for firefighter assistance in FY2018, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER. Money is to remain available through September 30, 2019.

FY2019

For FY2019, the Administration requested $688.688 million for firefighter assistance, including $344.344 million for AFG and $344.344 million for SAFER.

On June 21, 2018, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved S. 3109, the Department of Homeland Security Act, 2019 (S.Rept. 115-283). The Senate bill would provide $700 million for firefighter assistance, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER.

On July 25, 2018, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY2019 Homeland Security appropriations bill. The House bill would also provide $700 million for firefighter assistance, including $350 million for AFG and $350 million for SAFER. In the bill report, the Committee encouraged FEMA to give high priority consideration to grants providing for planning, training, and equipment to firefighters for crude oil-by-rail and ethanol-by-rail derailment and incident response. The Committee also encouraged FEMA to "provide technical assistance, and work more closely with those communities that are underserved or underrepresented," and to rate Source Capture Exhaust Extraction Systems as "high priority" under the AFG program.

Fire Station Construction Grants in the ARRA

Since its inception, the traditional fire grant program has provided money specifically for health- and safety-related modifications of fire stations, but has not funded major upgrades, renovations, or construction. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 (P.L. 111-5) provided an additional $210 million in firefighter assistance grants for modifying, upgrading, or constructing state and local nonfederal fire stations, provided that 5% be set aside for program administration, and provided that no grant shall exceed $15 million. The conference report (H.Rept. 111-16) cited DHS estimates that this spending would create 2,000 jobs. The ARRA also included a provision (§603) that waived the matching requirement for SAFER grants funded by appropriations in FY2009 and FY2010.

The application period for ARRA Assistance to Firefighters Fire Station Construction Grants (SCG) opened on June 11 and closed on July 10, 2009. There is no cost share requirement for SCG grants. Eligible applicants are nonfederal fire departments that provide fire protection services to local communities. Ineligible applicants include federal fire departments, EMS or rescue organizations, airport fire departments, for-profit fire departments, fire training centers, emergency communications centers, auxiliaries and fire service organizations or associations, and search and rescue teams or similar organizations without fire suppression responsibilities.

DHS/FEMA received 6,025 SCG applications for $9.9 billion in federal funds.3 As of October 1, 2010, 119 SCG grants were awarded, totaling $207.461 million to fire departments within the United States. A complete list of SCG awards is available at http://www.fema.gov/rules-tools/assistance-firefighters-station-construction-grants.

SAFER Grants

In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the 108th Congress enacted the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Act as Section 1057 of the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-136; signed into law November 24, 2003). The SAFER grant program is codified as Section 34 of the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 (15 U.S.C. 2229a). The SAFER Act authorizes grants to career, volunteer, and combination fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. Also authorized are grants to volunteer fire departments for activities related to the recruitment and retention of volunteers. For more information on the SAFER program, see CRS Report RL33375, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response: The SAFER Grant Program, by [author name scrubbed].

Program Evaluation

On May 13, 2003, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) released the first independent evaluation of the Assistance to Firefighters Program. Conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Leadership Development Academy Executive Potential Program, the survey study presented a number of recommendations and concluded overall that the program was "highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the nation."4 Another evaluation of the fire grant program was released by the DHS Office of Inspector General in September 2003. The report concluded that the program "succeeded in achieving a balanced distribution of funding through a competitive grant process,"5 and made a number of specific recommendations for improving the program.

At the request of DHS, the National Academy of Public Administration conducted a study to help identify potential new strategic directions for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program and to provide advice on how to effectively plan, manage, and measure program accomplishments. Released in April 2007, the report recommended consideration of new strategic directions related to national preparedness, prevention vs. response, social equity, regional cooperation, and emergency medical response. According to the report, the "challenge for the AFG program will be to support a gradual shift in direction without losing major strengths of its current management approach—including industry driven priority setting and its well-respected peer review process."6

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-161), in the accompanying Joint Explanatory Statement, directed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the application and award process for fire and SAFER grants. Additionally, FEMA was directed to peer review grant applications that best address the program's priorities and criteria as established by FEMA and the fire service. Those criteria necessary for peer-review must be included in the grant application package. Applicants whose grant applications are not reviewed must receive an official notification detailing why the application did not meet the criteria for review. Applications must be rank-ordered, and funded following the rank order.

In October 2009, GAO sent a report to Congress finding that FEMA has met most statutory requirements for awarding fire grants.7 GAO recommended that FEMA establish a procedure to track EMS awards, ensure that grant priorities are better aligned with application questions and scoring values, and provide specific feedback to rejected applicants.

During 2014 and 2015, the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of AFG grants for fiscal years 2010 through 2012. On June 9, 2016, the DHS OIG released its report finding that 64% of AFG grant recipients over that period did not comply with grant guidance and requirements to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse of grant funds. The report recommended that FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate develop and implement an organizational framework to manage the risk of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. According to the report, FEMA has concurred with the OIG findings and has taken corrective actions to resolve the recommendations.8

Meanwhile, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-239) directed GAO to prepare a report to Congress that includes an assessment of the effect of the changes made by P.L. 112-239 on the effectiveness, relative allocation, accountability, and administration of the fire grants. GAO was also directed to evaluate the extent to which those changes have enabled grant recipients to mitigate fire and fire-related and other hazards more effectively. In September 2016, GAO released its report, entitled Fire Grants: FEMA Could Enhance Program Administration and Performance Assessment. The report concluded that FEMA's fire grant policies and the awards made in FY2013 and FY2014 generally reflected the changes to the fire grant statute made by P.L. 112-239, and that FEMA enhanced its assessment of program performance by establishing and reporting on measures of effectiveness of the grants. However, GAO also concluded that those performance measures do not include measurable performance targets linked to AFG and SAFER program goals, and that "aligning the fire grants programs' use of data on, and definitions of, critical infrastructure to award fire grants and assess program performance with the more objective, quantitative approach used by DHS and GPD [the Grants Program Directorate] for other programs and nonfire preparedness grants could enhance GPD's efforts to integrate the fire grants program into larger national preparedness efforts and more objectively assess the impact of fire grants."9

In November 2016, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released its Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, which seeks to identify gaps and needs in the fire service, and assesses the extent to which fire grants target those gaps and needs. According to the study:

For respondent departments, fire service needs are extensive across the board, and in nearly every area of need, the smaller the community protected, the greater the need.

While some needs have declined, many others have been constant or have shown an increase. Gaps remain across the board in staffing, training, facilities, apparatus, personal protective equipment, and health and wellness. Evidence of the need for staffing engines; training for structural firefighting, Hazmat and wildland firefighting; and updated SCBA and personal protective clothing is concerning.

Roles and responsibilities of the fire service are expanding apparently at the same time appears that resources are being cut. EMS and Hazmat are now common responsibilities while active shooter response, enhanced technical rescue and wildland-urban interface firefighting are up and coming challenges for many departments.

AFG and SAFER grant funds are targeted towards areas of need. As other resources are cut back, more departments turn towards these grants for support. If anything, these grant programs should grow in order to address the considerable multifaceted need that continues in the fire service.10

Distribution of Fire Grants

The AFG statute prescribes different purposes for which fire grant money may be used. These are training firefighting personnel; creating rapid intervention teams; certifying fire inspectors and building inspectors whose responsibilities include fire safety inspections and who are associated with a fire department; establishing wellness and fitness programs, including mental health programs; funding emergency medical services (EMS) provided by fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations; acquiring firefighting vehicles; acquiring firefighting equipment; acquiring personal protective equipment; modifying fire stations, fire training facilities, and other facilities for health and safety; educating the public about arson prevention and detection; providing incentives for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters; and supporting other activities as FEMA determines appropriate. FEMA has the discretion to decide which of those purposes will be funded for a given grant year. This decision is based on a Criteria Development Panel, composed of fire service and EMS representatives, which annually recommends criteria for awarding grants.

Since the program commenced in FY2001, the majority of fire grant funding has been used by fire departments to purchase firefighting equipment, personal protective equipment, and firefighting vehicles. Eligible applicants are limited primarily to fire departments (defined as an agency or organization that has a formally recognized arrangement with a state, local, or tribal authority to provide fire suppression, fire prevention, and rescue services to a population within a fixed geographical area). Emergency Medical Services (EMS) activities (at least 3.5% of annual AFG funding) are eligible for fire grants, including a limited number (no more than 2%) to nonfire department EMS organizations not affiliated with hospitals.

Additionally, a separate competition is held for fire prevention and firefighter safety research and development grants, which are available to fire departments; national, state, local, tribal, or nonprofit organizations recognized for their fire safety or prevention expertise; and to institutions of higher education, national fire service organizations, or national fire safety organizations to establish and operate fire safety research centers. For official program and application guidelines, frequently asked questions, the latest awards announcements, and other information, see the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program web page at http://www.fema.gov/welcome-assistance-firefighters-grant-program.

The FIRE Act statute provides overall guidelines on how fire grant money will be distributed. Previously, the law directed that volunteer and combination departments receive a proportion of the total grant funding that is not less than the proportion of the U.S. population that those departments protect (34% for combination, 21% for all-volunteer). Reflecting concerns that career fire departments (which are primarily in urban and suburban areas) were not receiving adequate levels of funding, the Fire Grants Authorization Act of 2012 altered the distribution formula, directing that not less than 25% of annual AFG funding go to career fire departments, not less than 25% to volunteer fire departments, not less than 25% to combination and paid-on-call fire departments, and not less than 10% for open competition among career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments. Additionally, P.L. 112-239 raised award caps (up to $9 million) and lowered matching requirements for fire departments serving higher population areas.

There is no set geographical formula for the distribution of fire grants—fire departments throughout the nation apply, and award decisions are made by a peer panel based on the merits of the application and the needs of the community. However, in evaluating applications, FEMA may take into consideration the type of department (paid, volunteer, or combination), geographic location, and type of community served (e.g., urban, suburban, or rural).11

In an effort to maximize the diversity of awardees, the geographic location of an applicant (using states as the basic geographic unit) is used as a deciding factor in cases where applicants have similar qualifications. Table 4 shows a state-by-state breakdown of fire grant funding for FY2001 through FY2016, while Table 5 shows a state-by-state breakdown of SAFER grant funding for FY2005 through FY2016. Table 6 shows the percentage distribution of AFG grant funds by type of department (career, combination, volunteer, paid-on-call) for FY2009 through FY2014, while Table 7 shows the percentage distribution of AFG grant funds by community service area (urban, suburban, rural) for FY2009 through FY2014.

Issues in the 115th Congress

AFG assistance is distributed to career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments serving urban, suburban, and rural areas. A continuing issue is how equitably and effectively grants are being distributed and used to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards.

Another continuing issue is budget appropriations for AFG and SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels for AFG and SAFER. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire service community, given the local budgetary shortfalls that many fire departments may face.

Table 4. State-by-State Distribution of AFG Grants, FY2001-FY2016

(millions of dollars)

 

FY2001-FY2005

FY2006-FY2010

FY2011

FY2012

FY2013

FY2014

FY2015

FY2016

Total

AL

84.85

99.819

18.591

11.943

16.104

14.215

13.531

16.533

275.586

AK

14.819

5.701

0.568

1.375

0.807

0.759

0.511

0.917

25.457

AZ

30.173

22.002

4.952

3.781

4.562

4.712

3.377

5.119

78.678

AR

40.729

35.89

4.253

4.009

2.86

3.365

2.139

3.116

96.361

CA

110.367

108.192

35.334

21.467

20.481

15.599

18.242

17.782

347.464

CO

22.797

19.924

5.213

2.175

2.137

3.731

2.827

2.763

61.567

CT

34.622

27.431

3.67

4.085

4.093

3.487

2.77

4.7769

84.9349

DE

4.516

3.389

0.366

0.199

0.345

2.742

0.66

0.819

13.036

DC

0.673

1.915

1.38

0

0

0

1.085

0

5.053

FL

63.26

46.951

16.2

9.782

6.687

11.529

9.35

8.195

171.954

GA

44.27

41.087

5.174

5.849

2.829

5.983

7.541

5.57

118.303

HI

4.198

2.342

1.534

0.433

2.685

0.906

2.78

0

14.878

ID

19.173

14.94

0.439

2.069

2.602

2.108

0.887

1.464

43.682

IL

97.296

104.417

12.753

12.508

8.46

9.717

13.986

9.306

268.443

IN

66.323

67.308

7.728

4.696

3.247

5.051

5.388

5.474

165.215

IA

54.221

44.752

6.629

2.978

4.214

3.283

4.036

3.08

123.193

KS

34.497

24.151

3.072

2.947

2.121

2.297

4.224

1.319

74.628

KY

60.308

64.731

5.426

4.686

5.48

7.104

7.78

7.779

163.294

LA

48.407

31.928

6.337

3.369

3.918

3.455

5.346

5.416

108.176

ME

32.093

21.902

2.118

1.296

1.866

3.622

2.025

2.313

67.235

MD

31.97

33.371

4.524

6.848

6.737

5.938

4.065

2.999

96.452

MA

53.889

50.173

10.679

9.365

9.336

9.609

11.629

9.648

164.328

MI

64.103

74.226

16.904

12.714

9.606

9.206

10.782

15.26

212.801

MN

61.295

80.576

10.638

5.398

4.959

6.726

5.861

7.193

182.646

MS

45.382

37.794

3.694

2.617

2.272

4.674

2.255

4.769

103.457

MO

64.946

57.585

7.594

4.79

7.097

6.272

7.297

8.756

164.337

MT

27.178

26.222

0.725

1.44

0.569

1.419

1.676

1.465

60.694

NE

22.939

17.948

1.378

0.674

2.579

0.988

2.712

1.602

50.82

NV

8.391

5.366

0.564

0.459

1.526

1.575

0.448

0.558

18.887

NH

17.322

13.579

1.69

1.209

3.403

2.082

2.243

2.369

43.897

NJ

60.096

64.042

10.402

8.569

5.197

8.658

8.089

8.695

173.748

NM

15.878

7.166

2.122

1.796

0.975

0.355

0.613

0.975

29.88

NY

124.065

123.274

10.253

14.595

13.735

17.715

15.186

16.665

335.488

NC

76.727

90.818

13.864

13.583

8.157

12.903

8.166

8.102

232.32

ND

14.328

12.977

0.71

0.316

0.653

0.947

0.564

1.15

31.645

OH

99.921

132.083

23.281

20.617

17.512

20.346

21.748

21.216

356.724

OK

36.493

35.713

3.187

2.142

2.367

1.921

1.476

1.973

85.272

OR

36.52

35.987

5.59

2.693

2.47

3.275

3.859

5.978

96.372

PA

152.17

182.764

26.227

21.358

19.697

26.727

27.96

30.835

487.738

RI

8.287

8.268

2.314

3.75

3.284

4.082

2.57

2.727

35.282

SC

43.337

49.449

4.948

6.774

4.303

7.635

7.09

6.16

129.696

SD

17.911

10.812

1.135

0.292

0.682

0.458

2.119

1.198

34.607

TN

67.008

64.808

6.268

5.37

5.312

7.336

7.092

11.193

174.387

TX

102.203

85.594

11.031

7.887

2.766

6.525

8.409

8.149

232.564

UT

14.35

11.805

0.883

0.987

1.584

11.732

0.291

1.488

43.12

VT

14.403

6.985

0.498

0.775

0.599

0.718

1.913

1.636

27.527

VA

57.697

39.486

3.5

5.763

1.985

5.466

8.222

6.279

128.398

WA

63.215

60.176

7.341

8.01

7.327

10.941

8.65

6.574

172.234

WV

34.251

30.645

2.173

2.232

1.981

6.646

6.892

4.157

88.977

WI

65.182

73.388

8.635

9.344

3.436

3.72

4.829

5.619

174.153

WY

10.052

5.378

0.488

0.179

0.429

0.225

0.478

0

17.229

PR

4.926

1.775

0.876

0.024

0

0.26

0

0.614

8.475

MP

0.59

0.172

0

0

0

0

0

0

0.762

GU

0.016

0.287

0

0.422

0

0

0

0

0.725

AS

0.448

0

0

0

0

0

0.124

0

0.572

VI

1.285

0.233

0

0

0

0

0.761

0

2.279

 

2386.366

2319.697

345.85

282.64

248.033

300.208

304.558

307.748

6495.102

Source: CRS. Derived from FEMA AFG awards data available at https://www.fema.gov/assistance-firefighters-grant-awards.


Table 5. State-by-State Distribution of SAFER Grants, FY2005-FY2016

(millions of dollars)

 

FY2005-FY2007

FY2008-FY2010

FY2011

FY2012

FY2013

FY2014

FY2015

FY2016

Total

AL

12.062

20.133

1.293

6.923

3.73

3.895

1.721

3.966

53.723

AK

1.674

7.838

0.074

0.951

0.066

0.738

0.76

0

12.101

AZ

9.547

23.738

2.809

7.895

14.135

11.379

17.17

11.816

98.489

AR

2.591

7.016

1.136

1.019

0.208

2.632

1.007

2.345

17.954

CA

14.692

98.843

56.356

49.992

50.12

35.522

30.877

44.585

380.987

CO

6.793

6.359

5.432

1.636

0.85

4.106

1.823

5.646

32.645

CT

1.177

7.446

5.099

4.474

5.278

0

4.789

17.898

46.161

DE

0.135

2.121

0

0.946

0

0

0

0.446

3.648

DC

0

0

0

3.468

0

5.675

0

0

9.143

FL

22.122

59.011

30.494

26.243

37.927

22.83

19.527

45.623

263.777

GA

10.281

32.666

1.273

4.606

3.076

3.944

8.156

13.433

77.435

HI

0

1.726

0

0

0.944

0

0

0

2.67

ID

1.31

5.007

4.068

1.323

0

0

0

0.234

11.942

IL

15.736

19.194

2.456

5.704

4.806

4.843

5.39

5.16

63.289

IN

2.786

22.803

4.587

6.777

5.735

8.595

2.711

1.29

55.284

IA

1.293

2.414

1.604

0.08

1.104

0.498

3.227

2.621

12.841

KS

1.741

6.963

0.381

1.991

0.833

0

1.237

0.727

13.873

KY

3.471

3.697

0.155

1.164

2.574

0.973

2.307

3.036

17.377

LA

11.236

19.317

1.672

3.509

1.724

1.326

2.018

3.479

44.281

ME

0.397

2.737

0.518

1.183

1.442

0

0

1.206

7.483

MD

3.484

9.745

4.299

2.488

6.154

14.304

15.068

8.251

63.793

MA

7.751

55.497

23.127

4.955

17.336

25.612

14.681

12.996

161.955

MI

2.351

36.407

47.646

25.161

33.87

14.374

19.792

18.315

197.916

MN

1.764

5.291

4.463

0.797

0.871

1.026

2.107

0.653

16.972

MS

1.465

2.817

0.488

0.093

0.088

1.613

0.19

4.151

10.905

MO

9.565

9.473

10.619

2.86

1.284

2.196

5.271

2.791

44.059

MT

2.924

4.386

1.252

1.046

0

0.737

0.456

1.446

12.247

NE

1.505

3.246

0

0.37

3.779

0

3.417

1.871

14.188

NV

3.846

3.122

13.438

2.702

6.564

3.654

4.435

1.126

38.887

NH

2.963

0.578

1.479

0.976

0.651

0.666

0

1.957

9.27

NJ

13.298

61.593

18.073

34.462

23.791

55.874

38.484

5.03

250.605

NM

4.432

2.461

0

0

1.357

0.586

0.824

0.563

10.223

NY

7.376

30.878

6.142

8.949

2.149

8.164

10.63

4.123

78.411

NC

13.059

26.814

5.833

2.472

4.502

5.703

6.064

15.324

79.771

ND

0.609

5.174

0.048

0.066

0

0

3.298

0.264

9.459

OH

5.455

54.383

18.654

18.266

15.748

14.564

27.307

5.951

160.328

OK

1.377

11.909

1.435

0.676

0.83

1.091

6.574

11.96

35.852

OR

6.5

8.914

8.354

4.437

11.402

6.418

6.479

9.114

61.618

PA

5.352

12.617

13.831

27.608

4.462

27.122

4.915

9.249

105.156

RI

0.505

5.81

3.108

8.716

0

0.544

17.777

6.215

42.675

SC

4.537

12.632

2.147

4.757

6.763

1.869

6.886

5.743

45.334

SD

0.585

1.2

0.255

0

0.272

0.58

1.469

0

4.361

TN

9.102

10.378

0.993

3.034

3.58

1.97

4.324

9.501

42.882

TX

20.691

34.868

2.881

5.225

5.401

11.715

5.157

17.074

103.012

UT

6.31

10.362

0.208

0.598

0

0

0.17

0.603

18.251

VT

1.253

0.119

0

0

0

0

0

0

1.372

VA

6.427

15.735

4.978

9.883

7.691

12.48

9.441

8.235

74.87

WA

12.535

26.102

16.139

13.293

8.511

9.763

16.648

15.277

118.268

WV

0.868

0.845

0

0.46

0.311

1.921

13.694

2.581

20.68

WI

1.295

4.622

3.101

2.205

0

1.087

0.144

3.453

15.907

WY

0.316

3.589

1.148

0

0.24

0

0.978

0.3

6.571

PR

0

0

0

0

0

0

2.506

0

2.506

MP

0

1.404

0

0

0

0

0

0

1.404

MH

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

GU

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

AS

0

0

0.474

0

0

0

0

0

0.474

VI

0

0

0

0

0

0

1.881

0

1.881

PW

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Total

280.163

822.055

334.03

316.439

304.238

332.595

341.468

347.635

3078.613

Source: CRS. Derived from FEMA SAFER awards data available at https://www.fema.gov/staffing-adequate-fire-emergency-response-grants-awards.

Table 6. Distribution of Funding from AFG Awards by Department Type,
FY2009-FY2014

 

Department Type

Career

Combination

Volunteer

Paid on call/stipend

FY2009

26%

25%

43%

5%

FY2010

27%

34%

33%

6%

FY2011

38%

34%

25%

3%

FY2012

34%

30%

31%

4%

FY2013

34%

31%

32%

4%

FY2014

35%

31%

31%

3%

Source: GAO, Fire Grants: FEMA Could Enhance Program Administration and Performance Assessment, p. 47.

Table 7. Distribution of Funding from AFG Awards by Community Service Area, FY2009-FY2014

 

Community Service Area

Urban

Suburban

Rural

State Fire Training Academies

FY2009

19%

19%

62%

0

FY2010

19%

24%

58%

0

FY2011

31%

26%

44%

0

FY2012

24%

27%

50%

0

FY2013

23%

21%

53%

3%

FY2014

21%

22%

54%

3%

Source: GAO, Fire Grants: FEMA Could Enhance Program Administration and Performance Assessment, p. 50.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Specialist in Science and Technology Policy ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Footnotes

1.

"Firefighter assistance" is codified as §33 of the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act (15 U.S.C. 2229).

2.

Testimony is available at https://science.house.gov/legislation/hearings/subcommittee-research-and-technology-hearing-us-fire-administration-and-fire.

3.

Detailed SCG application statistics are available at http://www.firegrantsupport.com/docs/2009AFSCGAppStats.pdf.

4.

For full report see http://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/affgp-fy01-usda-report.pdf.

5.

Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspections, Evaluations, and Special Reviews, "A Review of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program," OIG-ISP-01-03, September 2003, p. 3. Available at https://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/OIG_Review_Fire_Assist.pdf.

6.

National Academy of Public Administration, Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program: Assessing Performance, April 2007, p. xvii. Available at http://www.napawash.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/07-06.pdf.

7.

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Fire Grants: FEMA Has Met Most Requirements for Awarding Fire Grants, but Additional Actions Would Improve Its Grant Process, GAO-10-64, October 2009, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d1064.pdf.

8.

Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, FEMA's Grant Programs Directorate Did Not Effectively Manage Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program—AFG Grants, OIG-16-100, June 9, 2016, 25 pp., available at https://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/2016/OIG-16-100-Jun16.pdf.

9.

Government Accountability Office, Fire Grants: FEMA Could Enhance Program Administration and Performance Assessment, GAO-16-744, September 2016, p. 33, available at http://gao.gov/assets/680/679787.pdf.

10.

National Fire Protection Association, Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, November 2016, p. xvii, available at http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/the-fire-service/administration/needs-assessment.

11.

44 C.F.R. Part 152.6(c).