11.18.09

Leahy Introduces Legislation To Further Assist First Responders

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today introduced legislation to modify a federal grant process to allow first responders across the country to use federal grant funding to maintain crucial emergency equipment.  The legislation is cosponsored by Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

The Strengthening and Updating Resources and Equipment (SURE) Act would modify the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to allow grants issued to first responders to be used for costs associated with the maintenance of critical equipment.  The bipartisan legislation was introduced in response to the September 22 announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program funds can no longer be used for the maintenance of equipment beyond the period of performance for the grant.

“I have heard from law enforcement officials in Vermont about how changes in these grant programs will affect state emergency law enforcement services,” said Leahy.  “The SURE Act will allow state and local law enforcement to use funds they receive to sustain the vital systems and equipment that have been put in place to keep our communities safe.  Our nation’s law enforcement officers deserve our commitment to provide them with the tools they need to carry out their duties.” 

The important change in the grant policy will allow first responders to use grant funding for the maintenance of vital equipment that communities rely on every day to protect communities across the country.  Without the changes, state and local governments will be faced with the added burden of paying for the maintenance during the difficult economic climate or possibly discontinue the use of the important equipment.  The bill will guarantee that law enforcement and emergency services have the tools they require to keep our cities and towns safe and their effectiveness will not suffer as a result of the modification to the grant process.

State and local law enforcement in Vermont have reached out to Leahy to express concern about the rule changes on a plan to implement a statewide communications system for first responders that will be severely hampered by the policy change.  State and local officials have been developing the Lifeline System for years and have planned for implementation by combining portions of four years of federal grants with additional law enforcement funding.  Upon completion of this important system for statewide coordination, considerable funds will be required to ensure that the system remains effective.  If Vermont is unable to use preparedness grants for future maintenance, the Lifeline System may become inoperable, severely diminishing statewide coordination for homeland security and emergency management.

The full text of Leahy’s statement on the introduction of the Strengthening and Updating Resources and Equipment Act follows.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Introduction Of The Strengthening And Updating Resources And Equipment Act
November 18, 2009

Today I am introducing the Strengthening and Updating Resources and Equipment (SURE) Act, a bill that will enable our country’s first responders to maintain important equipment to protect our communities.  I thank Senator Voinovich for his for his support of this important legislation.  First responders across the country provide critical protection from attacks on our Nation, and we should ensure they have the tools they need to keep our communities safe and prepared. 

On September 22, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced a considerable change in their policy regarding the use of preparedness grants.  The new guidelines state that recipients of Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) funds may no longer use the funds for maintenance of equipment beyond the period of performance for the grant.  This shifts the burden of maintenance costs for important homeland security equipment to States and communities, many of which are already struggling in the current economic downturn.

Much of the equipment purchased with these grants is complex and costly to maintain, and disallowing the use of grants to cover expensive maintenance costs means that many communities will have to forego the use of systems in which they have already invested precious resources.  Also, many State and local governments may be unable to purchase essential equipment because they would be unable to cover the maintenance costs in future years.

A plan to implement a statewide communications system for first responders in my home state of Vermont is severely hampered by this policy change.  State and local officials have been developing this system, known as the Lifeline System, for years and have planned for implementation by combining portions of four years of SHSGP grants with additional law enforcement funding.  Upon completion of this important system for statewide coordination, considerable funds will be required to ensure that the system remains effective.  If Vermont is unable to use preparedness grants for future maintenance, the Lifeline System may become inoperable, severely diminishing statewide coordination for homeland security and emergency management. I have heard from law enforcement officials in Vermont like Lieutenant Michael Manning of the Vermont State Police about how changes in these grant programs will affect state emergency law enforcement services.

The SURE Act would make changes to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to clarify that the administrator of these grants may not place limitations on the use of preparedness grants for maintenance costs.  This important clarification means that State and local law enforcement will be able to apply funds they receive to sustain the vital systems and equipment that have been put in place to keep our communities safe. 

Our Nation’s law enforcement officers deserve our commitment to provide them with the tools they need to carry out their duties.  I support and respect our State and local police officers and all of our first responders, and am proud to recognize their role in upholding the rule of law and keeping our Nation safe and secure.  I ask unanimous consent that the full text of the bill be printed in the record.

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