FY 2015 Homeland Security Funding Bill Stalled in the Senate

Legislation providing year-long funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including programs important to the fire service like the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant, and the United States Fire Administration (USFA), failed to pass the Senate last week. By votes of 51-48 on February 3, 53-47 on February 4, and 52-47 on February 5, the Senate voted against ending debate on H.R. 240, the Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Act. In order to end debate and proceed to a vote on the bill, 60 votes are required under Senate rules. H.R. 240 passed the House of Representatives on January 14.

DHS was the only federal agency that Congress did not provide full-year funding for last December when it passed omnibus appropriations legislation. Instead, a “continuing resolution” was enacted providing temporary funding to keep DHS functioning through the end of February. This was done in spite of a request from the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and other national fire service organizations to provide year-long FY 2015 funding for DHS.

In most years DHS appropriations are one of the first spending bills that Congress acts on because there is usually strong bi-partisan support for the agency’s functions. The hold-up this year is due to a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over immigration functions funded through the bill. President Obama issued an Executive Order last November modifying how the federal government deals with undocumented immigrants. H.R. 240 includes language preventing the use of funds to implement the President’s Executive Order. This has resulted in a split, largely along partisan lines, over the bill.

Failure to enact year-long DHS appropriations delays the implementation of grants and hinders the ability of DHS to launch new initiatives. For instance, the AFG and SAFER grants are currently running about nine months behind due to the inability of past Congresses to enact appropriations in a timely fashion. Additionally, when the continuing resolution expires at the end of this month, if Congress does not at least extend DHS’ funding authority, most of the agency will be shut down temporarily, creating delays in making grant awards and processing grant applications.

“I call on Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. “DHS is incredibly important to the nation and the programs that DHS administers are critical for our country’s volunteer emergency services. As a volunteer fire chief I have a lot of experience dealing with difficult situations, including mediating disputes. Finding solutions through compromise isn’t always easy but it is necessary to avoid dysfunction. I urge our nation’s political leaders to focus more on getting the job done and less on getting their way.”