This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. David Price (D-NC) that would allow funds provided by a Homeland Security Department funding bill to be used for rehiring laid-off firefighters, and preventing such layoffs from occurring in the first place. This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Homeland Security Department (DHS) programs.
Specifically, the underlying bill provided funding to fire departments to hire new firefighters under a grant program (known as “SAFER Grants). The bill prohibited those grants, however, from being used to rehire laid-off firefighters or prevent imminent layoffs. Price’s amendment would allow SAFER grants to be used for these purposes.
Price urged support for his amendment: “The law traditionally permits SAFER grants only to be used to hire new staff. Now, that provision makes sense when our economy is booming and local governments are in a position to hire new workers. But when the recovery is still fragile and local budgets are actually contracting and workers are being laid off, FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] needs the flexibility to use these grants to keep firefighters from being cut in the first place….I am proposing a waiver amendment which would save thousands of firefighter jobs. Right now the real challenge to community safety is not the reluctance of local governments to hire new fire personnel. It's the potential and actual layoffs of public safety personnel, which means fewer first responders, longer response times, and more lives being put at risk.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) opposed the amendment: “SAFER was originally authorized for the purpose of increasing the number of new firefighters in local communities--a hand up, not a handout. SAFER was not intended to rehire or retain firefighters, and certainly was not intended to serve as an operating subsidy for what is unquestionably a municipal responsibility….Under these costly waivers [proposed by Price’s amendment], there are no controls, there are no salary limits, and there are no local commitments. These proposed waivers totally undermine the original purpose and intent of the SAFER program by forcing the taxpayers to subsidize the everyday operating expenses of the local first responders. Given our nation's dire fiscal situation today, we must take a stand that it is not the federal government's job to bail out every municipal budget or serve as a fire marshal for every city and town across this country.”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 264-157. Voting “yea” were 186 Democrats and 78 Republicans. 155 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would allow funds provided by a Homeland Security Department funding bill to be used for rehiring laid-off firefighters, and preventing such layoffs from occurring in the first place. In order for this amendment to become law, however, it would need to pass the Senate as well.