Federal Domestic Preparedness Funding: Overview and Outlook

Organizations often describe federal grant funding as a necessary evil. Some have even elected to forego the application process altogether because of the regulations and delayed federal budgets involved as well as the steep competition. Fiscal year 2011 presented particular challenges, as passage of the federal budget resulted in decreased agency budgets, cancelled programs, and changes to eligibility guidelines.

Federal domestic preparedness funding has, however, enabled municipalities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a variety of natural and man-made disasters. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, approximately $38 billion has been appropriated for U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants over the past decade. Many of these federal programs predate the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, but funding increased significantly after the attacks in a national effort to, among other goals, create new and more effective regional and national response networks. DHS is the administering agency for most preparedness programs, including the following:

The State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), which provides funding to support the implementation of State Homeland Security Strategies designed to: (1) addressentified planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs at the state and local levels; and (2) help prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and other catastrophic events.

The Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS), which was created in 1996 in response to the Tokyo, Japan, mass-transit Sarin gas attack and the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, both of which occurred in 1995. The MMRS Program provides funding to 124 relatively populous jurisdictions to support a larger and better-coordinated health and medical response system capable of responding to mass-casualty incidents caused by any and all types of hazards.

The Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI), which has provided funding since 1993 to help address the unique needs of high-threat, high-density urban areas, allowing them to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism. (The list of eligible cities is divided into Tier I (higher risk, more populous cities) and Tier II (lower risk) funding categories.)

The Citizen Corps Program (CCP), which engages everyday American citizens in numerous community preparedness, response, and recovery activities. All 50 states receive at least some CCP funding. The goal of the program is to bring community residents and government leaders closer; the principal emphasis is on the training and planning efforts needed prior to incident response and recovery efforts.

Cutbacks, Consequences, and ‚ÄúContinued Concerns‚Ä̬†

On 19 May 2011, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the availability of fiscal year 2011 grant programs totaling $2.1 billion, nearly a 25 percent reduction from fiscal year 2010. Because of the loss in funding, the following cuts were announced:

  • SHSP¬†overall reductions declined from $842,000,000 to $526,874,000;
  • MMRS¬†funding declined from $321,221 to $281,693 per jurisdiction;
  • A total of 33 cities were eliminated from the¬†UASI¬†list, including such major cities as: Tucson, Arizona; Sacramento, California; Jacksonville, Florida; Honolulu, Hawaii; Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbus, Ohio; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and San Antonio, Texas; and
  • Overall¬†CCP¬†funding declined from $12,480,000 to $9,980,000.

The Near Future: Continued Cutbacks and Turmoil? 

Although many states and localities are still adjusting to the fiscal year 2011 budget cuts, increased attention also should be given to the upcoming fiscal year 2012 budget, which allocates $40.6 million in discretionary resources for DHS ‚Äď almost $3.0 million (6.9%) below the amount originally requested and¬†not quite $1,1 million (2.6%) below the fiscal year 2011 enacted level. Approximately $1.0 billion of the fiscal year 2012 budget is allocated for grants, contracts, and¬†cooperative agreements to state and local grant programs, or $1.2 billion below the amount¬†provided in fiscal year 2011.

In addition to these initial budget numbers, it also is important to note that:

  • The Committee on¬†Appropriations justified the budget cuts by citing a historical pattern of poor execution and management of¬†the grants process, focusing particular attention on approximately $13 billion in unexpended funds dating¬†back to fiscal year¬†2005.
  • Members of the committee also noted their continued concern over the lack of metrics in the backup material provided for program activities.
  • Requests for performance-period extensions may well be denied in future grant years.
  • The FEMA¬†(Federal Emergency Management Agency) administrator has been¬†directed to submit, within 60 days after enactment, a plan to expend, by the end of fiscal year 2012, all balances from the funds¬†appropriated prior to fiscal year¬†2008.
  • The FEMA administrator also is instructed¬†to publish, ‚Äúon the Agency‚Äôs website … [and] on a biannual basis, a summary of the¬†quarterly financial status reports that¬†grantees are required to submit to the¬†Agency ‚Ķ [including] for each grant the name of the grantee; a brief¬†description of the project carried out with the grant; the percentage of such¬†project that is completed; and other relevant information at the¬†discretion of¬†the Director.‚ÄĚ
  • Although fiscal year 2011 UASI funding is provided to 31 cities, fiscal year 2012 may see a major reduction, quite possibly to as few as 10 Tier I cities.

A Grim Outlook, Fraught With Difficult Challenges 

With many local and states throughout the nation facing their own budget crises, many jurisdictions currently receiving federal domestic preparedness funds may and probably will have to deal with a number of financially unsustainable projects. However, although sustainability is an important issue facing all¬†state and local¬†grant-funded projects, homeland security is a truly¬†national¬†concern. So is protecting those assets and physical resources that all Americans care about ‚Äď e.g., private-sector businesses, vibrant downtown areas, hazardous/toxic producing sites.

In short, the nation as a whole is facing a period of major uncertainty. Federal funding cuts, the UASI grants in particular, may also effectively force discontinuation of the significant forward progress that has been made toward improved regional, state, and national preparedness.

Given these and other daunting challenges just over the horizon, it is critical that grant recipients demonstrate effective stewardship of public funds. Moreover, recipients must work hand in hand with federal partners to develop the metrics needed to more accurately depict the increases in community preparedness that have resulted from the federally funded activities and projects of the past decade.

Catherine Parker

Catherine Parker is president of Parker Grant Solutions ‚Äď a consulting company that offers grant-writing and post-award compliance services to grant applicants and recipients. She has written successful grant applications totaling over $25 million and has achieved a GPC (Grant Professional Certification) designation. An expert in federal and foundation grants, with an emphasis on health and public safety projects, she earned a Master of Public Affairs from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a Master of Science from Ball State University. She also has established three grants offices in organizations yielding an annual total of $40 million in funds and has managed several successful MMRS and UASI grant projects.

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Bobby Courtney

Bobby Courtney is the Director of Policy and Planning at MESH Inc. He currently is responsible for MESH‚Äôs collaborative, community-based planning programs and working groups, MESH policy efforts, and the MESH weekly News Brief ‚Äď while also pursuing a joint professional degree in law and public health from Indiana University, where he currently serves as Executive Managing Editor of the Indiana Health Law Review. His prior experience includes eight years in healthcare strategic planning at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois. In 2010, he was recipient of the Indiana University Health Law Faculty Award for Excellence in Health Studies, as well as the Indiana State Bar Association Health Law Section Distinguished Writing Award.

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