Peters, Tlaib Lead Michigan Delegation in Urging FEMA to Waive Cost-Sharing Burden for State and Local Fire and Emergency Response Grants

Fire departments across the country are struggling to cover the increased costs of delivering critical services amidst Coronavirus pandemic

DETROIT, MI – U.S. Senator Gary Peters and U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) led the Michigan Congressional Delegation in urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to waive cost-sharing requirements for local communities that rely on federal grant programs to keep their communities safe and secure. Many fire departments depend on federal funding to help cover overtime pay and hire extra workers, especially in times of crisis. The members noted that the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has placed an unprecedented strain on fire fighters across the country, leaving state and local governments to cover the increased costs of supporting first responders in their communities.

The letter was also signed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, along with Reps. Jack Bergman (MI-01), Bill Huizenga (MI-02), John Moolenaar (MI-04), Dan Kildee (MI-05), Fred Upton (MI-06), Tim Walberg (MI-07), Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Andy Levin (MI-09), Paul Mitchell (MI-10), Haley Stevens (MI-11), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), and Brenda Lawrence (MI-14).

“We have heard from mayors and fire chiefs in our state that SAFER grant cost-sharing requirements are forcing them to make tough decisions about whether to lay off fire fighters—at a time when our communities need first responders and emergency personnel more than ever,” wrote the members. “Your waiver of cost-sharing requirements will help ensure that no municipality will have to make the impossible choice of choosing between first responders and other urgent priorities in the midst of a national emergency.”

“Michigan’s fire fighters are serving on the front lines of the Coronavirus outbreak, but are at risk of being left without the resources they need to effectively protect our communities,” said Mark Docherty, President of the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union. “Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, which is why I am proud to support our Congressional leaders’ efforts to provide economic relief to countless communities during this time of crisis.”

“In the midst of a global pandemic, Michigan’s fire fighters have bravely answered the call, serving our communities in their hour of need,” said Fred Timpner, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Firefighters. “However, the increased demand for our services has stretched many departments thin. I applaud Michigan’s Congressional delegation for standing up for our first responders, and urge FEMA to do everything in its power to support local fire departments.”

"Firefighters are the warriors on the tip of the spear in this battle with an unknown enemy.  Over 1,000 firefighters or paramedics across the United States have been diagnosed with the coronavirus,” said Michael O’Brian, Fire Chief of the Brighton Area Fire Authority. “But when this battle is over, firefighters and fire departments will continue to be casualties of this war as the anticipated economic recession will force fire departments to layoff those who were on the frontline of the coronavirus war.  It is imperative that Congress provide funding directly to fire departments with no match through a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grants.  It is the only way we can maintain a ready-response force in our communities for not only daily emergencies but if we are confronted by another enemy.”

“The brave firefighters in Inkster and across this country are on the front lines of serving our communities and ensuring residents are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Inkster Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard. “As the fire chief in the city of Inkster I am faced with a dilemma that effects my staffing levels. This pandemic has put us between a rock and a hard place, we cannot afford to continue financing our 5 new firefighters and we cannot afford to lose them. A waiver of cost-sharing requirements for the SAFER grants will ensure we can have more firefighters serving our residents during this crucial time. I’m thankful for Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Senator Gary Peters’ leadership on this issue, along with the members of the Michigan congressional delegation who are fighting to make this happen.”

FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant is an important tool in helping communities across the nation meet their firefighting and emergency response needs. The SAFER program was created to provide funding directly to local fire departments to help increase or maintain the number of trained, frontline fire fighters serving their communities. The total cost of FEMA’s grants is generally shared between the federal government and local entities through matching or cost-sharing programs. However, FEMA has the permanent authority to waive certain matching and cost-sharing requirements for grantees on the basis of economic hardship.

In their letter, the members highlighted the economic challenges facing fire departments in Michigan and pointed to the President’s March 13th National Emergency Declaration to call for a temporary suspension of cost-sharing requirements for all grantees for the duration of this crisis. The members argued that, without the support of FEMA’s grant programs, many fire departments would lack the resources to respond the increased volume of emergency calls they have been receiving amidst the ongoing pandemic.

Text of the letter is copied below and available here:

 

April 6, 2020

 

The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor, Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
500 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20472

 

Administrator Gaynor:

We are writing to express our urgent concern for the continued safety of our firefighters and for the economic hardships that fire departments across the nation are now facing amidst the COVID-19 crisis. 

Programs like FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants are an important tool in helping communities across the nation meet their firefighting and emergency response needs. Unfortunately, in the midst of a pandemic, our local fire departments are being called upon far more frequently, placing a strain on our communities to cover the cost of delivering those critical services. We hope you will take swift action and waive cost-sharing requirements for all grant awardees so that these fire departments have greater flexibility in deciding the best use of scarce resources.

Your authority to issue such a blanket waiver of cost-sharing requirements is clear. The House Appropriations Committee noted in H.Rept. 113-481 accompanying the FY2015 DHS Appropriation, H.R. 4903, that “the reauthorization of the SAFER program by the 112th Congress (Public Law 112-239) provided FEMA with permanent authority to waive certain matching and non-supplantation requirements for grantees based on a determination that a grantee meets economic hardship criteria” and that “waivers in future fiscal years will be limited to the authorization provided in Public Law 112-239.”

Moreover, Section 1804. (d) of P.L. 112-239 provides the FEMA Administrator significant leeway to “establish and publish guidelines for determining what constitutes economic hardship” for the purposes of such a waiver. In light of the President’s declaration of a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak on March 13, 2020, and ongoing life and safety missions, it is wholly consistent with federal policy for you to determine that all awardees are experiencing economic hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and provide a waiver of cost-sharing requirements for the duration of this crisis.

We have heard from mayors and fire chiefs in our state that SAFER grant cost-sharing requirements are forcing them to make tough decisions about whether to lay off fire fighters—at a time when our communities need first responders and emergency personnel more than ever.  Your waiver of cost-sharing requirements will help ensure that no municipality will have to make the impossible choice of choosing between first responders and other urgent priorities in the midst of a national emergency.

We hope you will give this matter timely consideration and provide immediate relief for our nation’s firefighters. 

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