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June 13, 2011

Deep cuts to homeland security grants put our communities at risk

Each community in the U.S. faces its own challenges and the local responders are the best prepared to address and handle a disaster response. As the Representative of the 13th district of Michigan, I represent the city of Detroit, which has one of our nation’s busiest border crossings. Like Tampa, we have our own waterway, our own extreme weather conditions (floods and sub-zero temperatures), and our own infrastructure needs. We cannot afford to shortchange those responsible for addressing Detroit’s hometown security.

While emergency managers in Florida have to annually plan for an intense hurricane season, emergency managers in Michigan have to prepare for brutal winter storms. Both urban areas maintain a common bond in understanding the need to ensure constant readiness for man-made and natural disasters.

Unfortunately, over the last several years we have seen more intense and devastating natural disasters, both abroad and here at home. These disasters have completely transformed whole communities, sadly causing lives to be lost and the destruction of homes and businesses.

Today, recovery activities continue in Alabama and Missouri from floods and tornadoes this year, as well as in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast states where the nation experienced its worst natural disaster over 5 years ago. 

As the emergency managers in Florida know, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted another active hurricane season. And in addition to natural disasters, homegrown and foreign terrorists are still committed to attacking the homeland in small and large cities across the country - we sometimes forget the terrorist threat is at its highest level since 9/11.  The demise of Osama Bin Laden does not provide an opportunity for us to rest and limit our preparedness and, in fact, requires that we reaffirm our commitment to preparedness, especially given terrorists' intent to expand their targets to include smaller cities, ports, and various modes of transportation. Because of this, it is vitally important that we provide state and local first responders with the support they need. 

As I said early this month on the floor of the House of Representatives, given the numerous threats we face, this is not the time to cut back on homeland security. The resources provided to state and local first responders are essential and ensure they have the equipment, staffing levels, and training needed to effectively respond.

Unfortunately, many in Congress have questioned the usefulness of these grants.

We can all agree that the nation must pursue responsible fiscal policies, but we should not shortchange the nation’s preparedness and homeland security. The fiscal year 2012 Homeland Security Budget passed last week makes dramatic and devastating cuts to preparedness grants. 

These include grant programs such as the Urban Area Security Initiative which provides cities with funds to safeguard against terrorist attack and plan for a host of catastrophic incidents. 

Detroit and Tampa, along with many other cities, were slated to be pushed out of this program due to lack of funding. Fortunately, I successfully worked with my colleagues to make sure Detroit and Tampa are not arbitrarily pushed out. Nevertheless, the amount of money available is still too low. The resulting erosion of state and local preparedness funding leaves us at risk of not being adequately prepared to respond to man-made and natural disasters.

I hope my colleagues will take what they learned from local officials in Florida and across the country and reverse the recent trend of cutting homeland security grant programs. Local first responders need our continued support to best do their job.  

By:  Congressman Hansen Clarke (D-MI)
Source: The Hill