Senator Collins Concerned About Homeland Security Cuts to First Responders & Underfunding for Port and Chemical Facility Security

Senator Susan Collins today told the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary that she is “extremely concerned” about the Administration’s proposed budget cuts to programs that support state and local first responders. Senator Collins also told DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff that she is “very disappointed” the proposed budget fails to fully fund the nation’s port security program and underfunds efforts to strengthen and regulate security at chemical facilities. Senator Collins is the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Secretary Chertoff testified today before the Committee about the Administration’s proposed DHS budget for Fiscal year 2008.

“I am extremely concerned about large cuts in grant funding proposed in this budget. First responder grants have been chronically underfunded since 2004, yet the new budget proposes only $250 million for the State Homeland Security Grant program. That is a cut of more than 50-percent from the amount appropriated for fiscal year 2007. We must reverse this trend,” said Senator Collins.

Senator Collins pointed out that communities rely heavily on State Homeland Security Grants for emergency planning, risk assessments, mutual aid agreements, equipment, training, and exercises for first responders. The President’s budget also proposes a reduction in the minimum grant allocation for states, which results in a total minimum state grant level of $625,000. She also expressed concern that the proposed budget slashed grants for firefighters by $362 million and zeroes out funds for other important grant programs.

“The proposed minimum state grant level is less than what it costs Maine to staff its fusion center, employ personnel who coordinate statewide training and exercises, and ensure that it effectively implements the National Incident Management System,” said Senator Collins. “These are not arcane budget details. These are programs that provide Americans – whether they live in New York City, Connecticut suburbs, or Maine towns – with additional security. I fear that funding cuts of this magnitude would be a blow to our nation’s security.”

Senator Collins praised the Administration for increasing funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to strengthen border security. But she stressed that, “As we work to defend our southern border, we must not neglect our northern border or coasts. As we strengthen defenses to our south, we increase the appeal of other avenues of approach for our enemies. Our nation’s security demands a balanced approach to border protection.”

Senator Collins also expressed concern to Secretary Chertoff that the proposed budget “slights” the Coast Guard, citing its need for more modern and effective assets to meet the demands of the Coast Guard’s traditional and more challenging missions since the September 11th attacks.