FEMA Proposes Converting Local Grants to State Block Grant

by Mitchel Herckis

While the President's budget asks for a significant increase in Homeland Security grant funding for FY 2013, it also proposes drastic changes to the programs that would divert funding from local jurisdictions to state governments.

Specifically, the budget proposes consolidating 16 homeland security grant programs into a state block grant called the National Preparedness Grant Program (NPGP). Those 16 existing programs include major programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative, which is utilized to secure the highest-threat jurisdictions in the country, and the State Homeland Security Grant Program, from which 80 percent of funds are required to be passed on to local governments. NPGP would also include Metropolitan Medical Response System, Citizen Corps, Urban Search and Rescue and the Port and Transit Security Grant Programs, all of which tend to go to local authorities.

FEMA has proposed that funds be distributed based on risk examinations by each state called a Threat Hazard Identification Risk Assessment (THIRA). There are no details yet as to whether states would be required to provide local governments with any role in the THIRA examination. FEMA would then choose which projects to fund from each state's THIRA based on national priorities.

FEMA's NPGP proposal does not provide substantial details on how the grant program may work, or what safeguards may be in place to ensure local threats and preparedness gaps actually are being met.

For instance, FEMA has not committed to requiring percentages of funds to be distributed to localities, law enforcement, or other first responders. FEMA is asking Congress to authorize the program through the appropriations process. FEMA has not proposed specific legislative language authorizing the grant program or outlined specific guidelines or constraints.

NLC, along with other national organizations representing state and local governments, law enforcement and fire services, was not consulted regarding the NPGP proposal before it was proposed in the FY 2013 budget. NLC and other stakeholders are looking to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure that any changes to the suite of homeland security grants are done in a manner that ensure first responders receive the funding they need to maintain and build capabilities to deter and respond to threats.