Fire Service Funding at Stake as Automatic Funding Cuts Loom

At the beginning of this year, Congress and President Obama temporarily averted automatic spending cuts and tax increases that had been scheduled to take effect automatically by passing H.R. 8, the American Taxpayer Relief Act. Most of the tax provisions in H.R. 8 were long term, including making lower tax rates for most taxpayers permanent, allowing rates to rise and certain exemptions to expire for higher income tax payers, and allowing the payroll tax “holiday” to expire.

On the spending side of the equation, H.R. 8 merely delayed until March 1 the first round of automatic spending cuts, scheduled to reduce the budget deficit by approximately $85 billion in FY 2013 and $1.2 trillion over ten years. This would be accomplished by slashing discretionary federal spending, including on fire service programs like the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, and the United State Fire Administration (USFA).

When H.R. 8 passed there was a general assumption that Congress and the President would try to work out an alternative deficit reduction deal to prevent across-the-board spending cuts from going into effect. With less than two weeks until the deadline and both houses of Congress in recess until February 25, however, that prospect is looking increasingly unlikely.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on Senate Democrats and the President to put a plan on the table to replace the automatic spending cuts without raising additional tax revenue. President Obama, meanwhile, has called on Congress to propose a short-term deficit reduction package that includes both revenue increases and targeted spending cuts. Barring an unexpected meeting of the minds over the issue of new tax revenue, it is hard to see a deal getting done to avert the automatic spending cuts.

It is difficult to predict what impact the automatic cuts would have on the fire service. The cuts would be implemented as across-the-board percentage reductions from FY 2013 appropriations, only Congress has yet to pass FY 2013 appropriations legislation so we don’t know what those spending levels will be. The National Volunteer Fire Council recently asked Congress to provide no less than level funding for AFG, SAFER, and USFA for FY 2013, which would mean $337.5 million each for AFG and SAFER and $44 million for USFA.

We will continue to advocate for adequate funding for critical fire service programs. You can sign up here to receive Action Alerts when Congress is considering legislation affecting AFG, SAFER, USFA, and other important emergency services issues.