Gillibrand pushes for preservation of fire department grants

U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand is pushing for the leaders in her chamber to reject a cut to grant programs for fire departments after cut in this year’s federal budget, as Congress begins work on 2025 federal budget.

On Wednesday, Gillibrand sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Homeland Security subcommittee, requesting that both bodies allow for increased funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant programs — both programs saw cuts in the 2024 federal budget, which was formally set in March.

In a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Gillibrand said the programs had been cut by about $72 million in the budget set in March, drastically cutting the programs at the same time that fire departments face ever-increasing costs and ongoing problems with recruitment, retention and equipment maintenance.

“(These grants) help make sure firefighters have life-saving equipment like self-contained breathing apparatuses when they run into burning buildings, and they help make sure under-resourced departments have the staffing they need to respond to growing call volumes,” she said.

Gillibrand is advocating that both AFG and SAFER be funded with $360 million per program, and asking that lawmakers include language that will extend the programs for another year at least — the law authorizing them has them set to expire in September of this year.

The AFG and SAFER grants are both widely used by volunteer and professional fire departments across New York and the nation. In March, Ogdensburg city officials voted to apply for a SAFER grant to hire more firefighters, and last year the city of Watertown did the same.

Smaller town departments use them too — the Rutland VFD got over $300,000 last year from the AFG and SAFER programs to replace their air packs and get new safety gear.

Gillibrand said there were 220 grants given in New York last year, totaling $50 million — but 350 had applied for grant money, meaning many communities applied but weren’t able to benefit from the grant program.

“You can’t keep expecting our firefighters, most of whom are volunteers, to put their lives on the line without support,” she said. “We need to increase federal funding for these essential programs so that our firefighters have what they need to keep others in our communities safe.”


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