he House Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee approved competing bills to change the formula by which antiterrorism grants are distributed to the states. Both bills would provide more first responder funding to states that face the greatest risk of terrorist attacks but differ in the minimum amount of money guaranteed to each state.
Currently each state receives a minimum of 0.75 percent of the total funding offered through the Department of Homeland Security’s State Homeland Security Grant (SHSG) program. These funds are distributed to the states on a formula basis, and 80 percent of the funds must be passed on to local governments. These funds are not designated solely for law enforcement use but can be used to fund a wide range of other public safety agencies.
Critics of the SHSG program have complained that some states such as Wyoming have received more funding per capita than states that are considered bigger terrorist risks, such as New York.
President Bush and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-California) want to significantly lower the minimum funding levels so that more money can be distributed to states and municipalities based solely on threat and risk levels.
Under the president’s proposed budget, every state would receive 0.25 percent of the total spending. A revised formula would then allocate funds based on the threat of terrorism, which would result in a loss of funds for small states and rural areas.
The House bill (H.R. 1544) was passed by the Homeland Security Committee on April 21. The bill would assign the three main homeland security grants to states based on a risk assessment performed by the Department of Homeland Security. It would guarantee a 0.25 percent state minimum, with some border states getting a higher guaranteed percentage (0.45 percent).
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs passed its version of the legislation (S. 21) on April 20. The bill, which was introduced by Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), would set a higher minimum level of funding for each state.
It would pool the SHSG funding with other first responder grant programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention program, and it would guarantee each state 0.55 percent of this larger total. Increasing the pool of funding negates the effect of the proposed cut in minimum funding from 0.75 percent 0.55 percent.
In addition, some states could receive more than that amount, depending on their total population and their population density. After each state received its minimum amount, the rest of the funds would be distributed on a sliding scale based on population and a risk determination made by DHS. No state would receive more than three percent of the total.
Senator Collins is concerned that the president’s proposed formula change would leave out smaller states, where the threat might shift if terrorists perceive them as easier targets.
But critics of the legislation, including committee member Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), argued that the bill would actually reduce the percentage of money awarded based on an area’s risk of a terrorist attack. He cited a Congressional Research Service report that determined that risk-based funding would fall by 19 percent under the Senate bill.
Collins and Lieberman responded to the criticisms by saying that risk-based funding would almost double under their bill, from $885 million to $1.8 billion. This estimate is based on the assumption of more first responder funding than the $2 billion President Bush requested in his fiscal year 2006 budget. The Senate bill would authorize $2.9 billion in first responder funding for both fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2007.
Lawmakers Must Reconcile Immigration Rules in Supplemental Funding Bill
Both the House and the Senate have now passed an $81 billion fiscal 2005 supplemental spending measure that funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. When lawmakers meet to reconcile the two versions of the spending bill, one of the biggest obstacles will be provisions relating to immigration reform contained in the House bill but not in the Senate version.
The House attached provisions of a previously passed bill (H.R. 418) that would tighten driver’s license and identity card requirements and tighten asylum rules.
Specifically, the provisions would establish new, stricter standards for state-issued driver’s license and identification cards and impose new requirements on states to seek proof of applicants’ legal residence before issuing driver’s licenses. If the states do not comply with the new antifraud guidelines, driver’s licenses issued in those states would not be accepted as proof of identity for boarding airplanes, buying guns, or entering federal buildings.
It would require applicants for state-issued identification cards and driver’s licenses to prove, and states to verify, the applicant’s U.S. citizenship or lawful presence. In addition, the bill requires that the expiration date for any license or ID card issued to someone in the country on a temporary visa match the visa’s expiration date.
Currently, 10 states do not require people to prove that they are in the country lawfully to obtain driver’s licenses.
Proponents of the bill argue that it would make it harder for potential terrorists to travel throughout the country and plot attacks. However, some civil liberties groups and other critics say the proposed standards would convert state-issued driver’s licenses into national identification cards and actually lead to more unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
The supplemental is considered must-pass legislation, as the Pentagon has indicated that it needs the funding by early May to continue the military campaigns. ■