Two Illinois Congresspeople are calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the SAFER Grant program to keep local firefighters on staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. 18th District Congressman Darin LaHood and 17th District Congresswoman Cheri Bustos have penned a letter to FEMA to expand rules to the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant Program to not only include new hires to local fire departments but current staff. The letter cites the recent economic downturn and budget shortfalls that municipalities are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to expand the program so that emergency responders have adequate staffing. Bustos and LaHood argue that its important to get fire departments up to adequate staffing with new hires but it’s also necessary to retain veteran firefighters during the pandemic’s ongoing response efforts.
LaHood cited issues with the budget in the City of Peoria as one of his main causes of concern. The city is looking at an 11% reduction in municipal payroll, which could potentially mean the layoffs of 22 of the city’s firefighters. LaHood and Bustos have asked FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor to use authority given to him by the federal Office of Management and Budget to waive the requirements on the current fiscal year’s grant process to expand the use of the SAFER grant money for fire departments. The grants came available on May 15th and will be issued by July 1st. Currently the SAFER program will allocate 300 grants worth over $350 million.