Senate Saves USFA, SAFER, FIRE Grants

Senators apparently listened to the calls from the nation’s responders on Thursday as they voted unanimously to re-authorize the USFA as well as two important grant programs.

The amendment attached to the National Defense Authorization Act gives the USFA, SAFER and AFG programs a five-year reprieve, and also OKs changes to the grant applications.

After work is completed on the language, it will be headed to a Senate and House conference where legislators will hammer out their differences, explained Bill Webb, CFSI executive director.

The House version passed in May does not include the reauthorization.

“We got over a hurdle last night. But, we haven’t crossed the finish line just yet,” Webb said in a telephone interview.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ok, penned an amendment to the measure that sunsets the grant programs in 2017.

Nonetheless, Webb said he is pleased the Senate passed the legislation to save the agency and the programs.

“There’s plenty of time to work about the sunset issue,” he said. “We have time to strategize…”

Improvements to the AFG and SAFER grant programs involve raising current grant caps, reducing the local match under FIRE, significantly simplifying the local match under SAFER, and providing waivers for communities facing significant economic hardship.

Webb added that it was obvious that legislators got the message loud and clear from responders.

“It was democracy at its best. It was good to see people getting involved to make a difference. I think we’ve made all the calls we need to right now. We may have to be contacting them later because we’re in a short time frame.”

He also lauded senators for their work. "We are very grateful to Senator Lieberman and the co-sponsors of this amendment for working diligently to bring reauthorization of these programs one step closer to reality. We also extend our thanks to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator John McCain, and Senator Carl Levin for their efforts."