FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 18, 2009
SCHUMER: FULLY STAFFED FIRE DEPARTMENTS CRITICAL TO PUBLIC SAFETY; SENATOR INTRODUCES NEW PLAN TO PREVENT LAYOFFS AND RECRUIT MORE VOLUNTEERS
Standing With Local Fire Fighters at City of Binghamton Fire Department Headquarters, Schumer Announces Plan To Provide New Funding Source To Prevent And Reverse Layoffs Of Paid Firefighters And Provide $1000 Tax Credit For Volunteers
In Difficult Economic Times, Fire Departments Face Even Greater Challenges; Volunteers Are Hard To Recruit And Budget Cuts Threaten Paid Departments
Provision Will Be Included In A Spending Bill Set To Pass In The Senate This Week
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer joined Senator Chris Dodd in unveiling a new proposal to support volunteer and paid firefighters in the Southern Tier. The current firefighters grant program, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants, may only be used to hire new, additional career fire fighters. Senator Schumer and Senator Dodd have introduced legislation that changes the SAFER grants program, and allows funds awarded in the next two years to be used to restore or retain current workforce levels despite local budget cuts. Schumer also announced that he has introduced legislation to provide a $1,000 tax credit for active members of volunteer firefighting organizations. Both bills are specifically designed to address the recruitment and budgetary problems that are plaguing areas like the Southern Tier. Schumer, the third ranking member of the Senate leadership, successfully fought to incorporate the legislation in the must-pass Fiscal Year 2009 Supplemental that is likely to come to the Senate floor for a vote this week.
"Firefighters in the Southern Tier put their lives on the line for the community every day,” Schumer said. “During these tough economic times we must do everything we can to stand by them and give them the support and resources they need to protect us and keep our communities safe. There is no better way to support our first responders than to help recruit more volunteers and retain more professional firefighters.”
The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant was created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help them increase the number of trained, "front-line" firefighters available in their communities. However, the grant currently can only be used to hire new, paid firefighters.
Under the Dodd-Schumer legislation, fire departments receiving a SAFER grant in the next two years would be eligible for waivers that would allow the grants to be used towards preventing lay-offs and rehiring positions that were cut due to local fiscal woes.
Senator Schumer also introduced legislation to provide a tax credit of $1,000 for volunteer firefighters that would serve as an important recruitment tool for local groups to boost enrollment numbers. Most importantly, it is a way for the Federal government to express the country's enormous gratitude for the sacrifices they voluntarily make each day. Senator Dodd is an original co-sponsor of Schumer’s legislation.
Many communities around New York State rely on volunteer firefighters for much-needed public services, but it is getting increasingly difficult to find people to fill the slots because people have increasing demands on their time, or current financial situations that preclude their participation. The $1,000 tax credit is designed to offer an incentive for people to get involved in their communities in this vitally important way.
If enacted, the proposal would provide a $1,000 federal tax credit to individuals who are active members of volunteer fire departments and emergency service crews to reward these brave men and women who risk their lives for little or no compensation.
Under the tax credit, any taxpayer who is a volunteer firefighter for at least six months is entitled to a refundable federal tax credit of $1,000. A refundable tax credit means that, if the credit exceeds their federal tax liability, they would receive the remainder as a tax refund.
Schumer has long been an advocate for firefighters. In October 2000, Congress enacted the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (FIRE) Act to make federal grants available to fire departments to provide much needed firefighting equipment, training and fire prevention education programs. Between FY2001 and FY2009 New York State has received over $200 million in Assistance to Firefighters grants.