Durbin Warns Funding For Illinois First Responders At Risk While Republicans Play Politics With Spending Bill

[CHICAGO] - U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today warned that if Republicans in the House and Senate continue to play politics with a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), firefighters and other first responders across Illinois could lose out on funding they depend on for operations, equipment and staffing. The bill extending funding for the DHS has stalled as a result of an effort by Republicans to use the bill as a bargaining chip to push for immigration policy changes. The House and Senate will be in recess until February 23, leaving just 5 days to approve a DHS bill before the agency runs out of funding on February 27.

“It’s completely unacceptable to put politics ahead of equipping our firefighters and other first responders appropriately,” Durbin said. “These Department of Homeland Security grant programs are essential to ensure our firefighters and law enforcement can respond to emergencies around the clock.  We need to make sure the people living in the Chicago area and the millions of visitors from all over the world who come here are safe. I’m ready to pass a clean appropriations bill today and I hope my colleagues in Congress will join me.”

"The funding that our Urban Area receives from DHS is critical to providing our first responders with the training and the tools they need to ensure the safety of our residents," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, "We have always made the security of our communities a top priority and these funds are a vital component of our security strategy."

Programs at risk are:

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) – Grants received through the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response program – known as SAFER grants – help departments hire new firefighters or retain ones they would otherwise lose due to budget cuts.  This program enhances the ability of local fire department’s to maintain 24-hour staffing which ensures that the community has adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards.

Eighteen Illinois fire departments are currently receiving $9.5 million in federal funding that was awarded over the past two years.  This includes fire departments in Naperville ($1,002,000), North Chicago ($832,741), Franklin Park ($461,724), La Grange ($162,3560), Itasca ($293,364) and many others right here in the Chicago area. Because these payments are made on a bi-monthly, monthly or quarterly basis, if DHS shuts down, the 59 Illinois firefighters supported by these funds will not receive their paychecks or benefits.  There won’t be anyone at DHS to write and distribute the checks.

Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) – DHS grants also are used to purchase critically needed equipment and to support operations and safety efforts. The Assistance to Firefighters Grant program – also known as AFG – allows fire departments to purchase new fire trucks or better gear as well as things like more reliable communications tools. These grants also allow departments to pay for training for first responders – training that can mean the difference between life and death. In the event of a shutdown, the $340 million allocated for AFG grants from the FY2014 spending bill won’t be awarded – let alone distributed – to communities across the country.

Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) – The Chicago area is a “top tier” Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) region. UASI provides funds for terrorism prevention training and equipment. Chicago and Cook County have used the funds to purchase top-of-the-line interoperable radios, mobile video surveillance trucks, and video surveillance equipment in and around Grant Park. Since 2003, the Chicago Urban Area has received $617 million through the UASI program. It received $69.5 million last year, alone.