As former Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen used to say, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money."
The U.S. Government is poised to authorize $900 million a year over three years in assistance to local emergency responders, thanks to an amendment to the 2002 defense authorization bill offered by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa.
Last year the federal government provided just $30 million to local responders.
A former firefighter, Weldon spoke about his efforts to support emergency responders at EPA''s biannual Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention (CEPP) Conference, held in Baltimore Dec. 9-13. Thanks to the sea change in attitudes provoked by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the congressman said he expects the bill to be signed into law within the next few days.
"The money will begin to be used not by agency bureaucracies, but [will go] directly to emergency response groups to buy the kind of equipment they need," said Weldon.
A spokesman for Weldon explained that the funds would be disbursed through a grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. It is intended to help local responders, especially firefighters, prepare for possible terrorist attacks. Grants will be awarded for such things as personal protective equipment, communication apparatus, arson prevention and detection tools, hazardous material handling, and additional training and hiring of personnel.
But although federal spending in this area is growing rapidly, local responders will probably not see every penny of Weldon''s $900 million in 2002.
"I''m hoping the final figure will be close to $440 million," said Dan Glucksman, public affairs director for International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA).
Glucksman has been following the legislation for ISEA, a trade association headquartered in Washington, DC. He pointed out that it is appropriated, not authorized, money that actually gets spent, and the Senate has just appropriated a total of $440 million that would go to support local firefighters and emergency responders. Glucksman said that Weldon''s authorization bill came so late in the appropriation process, it may be difficult to fund it fully this year.
"Next year we''ve got a decent shot at getting more than this year," Glucksman predicted. "ISEA members would rather be making this equipment because the steel mills are running, but it''s our mission to supply responders, and right now it''s definitely the responders that are the growth sector of this business."
(See related article, "Congressman Says Government Let Down American People on 9/11.")
by James Nash