Senate Committee Adds $731 Million for First Responders to Budget Resolution

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., on March 23 successfully added $731 million in funding for first responders and emergency planning to the FY 2008 budget resolution.

The cost of these new investments would be completely offset by an across-the-board budget cut to non-defense administrative accounts, thereby adding nothing to the federal deficit. The amendment was approved by unanimous consent.

Of the $731 million, $400 million would be for a dedicated communications interoperability grant program to help first responders communicate with one another across jurisdictional and geographic lines. The remaining $331 million would be directed toward the Emergency Management Performance Grants program, which is the only all-hazards grant program that helps state and local officials plan and prepare for disaster. Both grants programs were authorized as part of S.4, the Improving America’s Security Act of 2007, which passed the Senate on March 15.

“We know our first responders don’t have the training, equipment, and frequently the manpower they need to do their jobs properly,” Lieberman said. “Unfortunately, time and again, disasters occur, and police, fire fighters and emergency medical workers are unable to exchange information with each other. Lives are lost as a result.”

Collins noted that even the most effective pre-incident planning will prove ineffective if first responders are unable to communicate with each other in real time during an actual incident. “In addition, recent disasters have further demonstrated the broad spectrum of events for which state and local governments must properly plan,” she added.

The FY 2008 budget resolution, as it emerged from the Budget Committee, restores Bush administration cuts to key homeland security programs to FY 2007 levels and provides an additional $1.4 billion above the president’s request of $46.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security.

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