Would Require State Grants Be Based on Population
Jun 12 2003
WASHINGTON, DC - Senator Tom Carper on Thursday introduced legislation that would ensure that small states with high-risk facilities and infrastructure, like Delaware, aren't shortchanged when it comes to receiving much-needed homeland security dollars from the federal government. The Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act, which is also sponsored by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, would change the current federal first-responder distribution formula, which doles out money to states based largely on population. Instead, the bill would see that up to 60 percent of first-responder money be based on the risk a particular state faces from a possible terrorist attack. "No state should be less safe than its neighbors simply because it has a smaller population," said Carper, the bill's lead Democratic cosponsor. "This bill will help ensure that states with high-risk facilities and infrastructure receive the federal dollars they need to help protect them from possible terrorist attacks." Although Delaware has less than one million people, it is home to a major shipping port in Wilmington, as well as oil refineries and chemical plants - all of which could be potential terrorist targets. The state also plays host daily to scores of ships, trains and trucks moving up and down the East Coast. Meanwhile, Dover Air Force Base houses a full complement of military aircraft that were crucial to advancing machinery and equipment to the recent military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act would still require that population be taken into account when distributing first-responder aid, but it adds the requirement that the Department of Homeland Security also consider threats and potential risk to critical infrastructure. States would submit risk assessments detailing critical sites and security needs to the Homeland Security Department when they apply for federal homeland grants each year. The legislation would continue to mandate that up to 80 percent of all federal homeland grants be passed from the state to cities and localities. The bill would also maintain the current small-state minimum used today in which each state receives just under 1 percent of the total pot of federal money made available for homeland security grants. Also, the Homeland Security Grant Enhancement Act would give states new flexibility to spend their first responder aid. It incorporates provisions from another piece of legislation, also sponsored by Carper and Collins, that would allow states to apply for a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security so that they can direct money toward their most urgent needs, such as new equipment purchases, emergency training, response exercises or planning. Under current law, 70 percent of federal money must go toward purchasing equipment, 18 percent for exercises, 7 percent for planning and 5 percent for training. "Right now, the system is not in accordance with the particular needs of a state or local units," said Carper. "One size does not fit all." In addition, the bill would create a "one-stop shop" for grant information within DHS by moving the Office of Domestic Preparedness, the agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with administering the current state homeland security grant program, from the Directorate for Border and Transportation Security to the Office for State and Local Government Coordination. In its new location, ODP will operate a "clearinghouse" for grant information that would offer services such as a toll-free hotline and a list of recommended first responder equipment. ODP will also maintain a compilation of "best practices" made up of successful homeland security programs from across the country and offer states technical assistance in developing the terrorism risk assessments that will be a part of the new state grant program. "No matter how well we do on the federal level to protect against terrorist attacks, we will not be much safer than we were on September 11, 2001, unless our first responders are better prepared to do their work on the local level," said Carper. "While homeland security should certainly be a shared responsibility, it is vitally important that the federal government does its part to provide each state and its first responders with the assistance necessary to ensure that the citizens they serve are adequately protected. The bill I've introduced is an important step toward making that happen." Carper is a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which last year oversaw the creation of the new Department of Homeland Security.