Senator Criticizes Plan for Terror Aid;
Clinton: Bush request won't help firefighters

Copyright 2002 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)...03/29/2002


Washington - A presidential budget request to aid firefighters and other first responders to terrorism has drawn criticism from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who opposes how President George W. Bush intends to spend the money.

A bill introduced by Clinton would allow fire departments to use money from the proposed $ 3.5 billion allocation to pay for overtime costs and hiring new personnel. The plan offered by the president's Office of Homeland Security would allow a small percentage of money to be used for overtime but none for hiring.

"This is to build up training and infrastructure for current personnel," said Gordon Johndroe, a Homeland Security spokesman.

Clinton said those efforts would ignore an underlying problem.

"If you don't have the forces on the ground, (the money's) not going to make a difference," Clinton said, adding that the administration's proposal drastically cuts existing grants that could be used for hiring personnel.

The Bush administration said the addition of the homeland security block grant program this year more than makes up the difference from the cuts.

Many firefighters, though, see the cuts as a continued lack of respect for their importance and a reason for a trend of many understaffed departments.

"Before 9/11, whenever a new administration got in, we were the first to be cut... now because of 9/11, you would think it would at least be considered that our job is important," said Marty Jackson, a firefighter from Atlantic City, N.J., who joined firefighters from New York and other states last week at the Capitol to lobby for more resources that they said are desperately needed.

"Two-thirds of our cities in this country are operating short. We wouldn't send our Army to Afghanistan two-thirds prepared . . . Our nation's domestic warriors deserve no less," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Both Clinton and spokesmen for Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the two will work out what they call their plans' "minor" differences, including how the money would be directed to local fire departments.

Clinton said her plan would send money directly to most larger cities and towns, while states would receive a small amount of money to fund initiatives in smaller communities. The administration's proposal calls for all of the money to be distributed directly to states by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The states would then send it to cities.

Clinton rebuked the Bush plan, saying it would allow money "to be siphoned off in state capitals," but the administration countered saying that route is logical.

"That way there is 50 states ... going to FEMA ... rather than having 18,000 local entities going to FEMA. States have a way of dealing with cities and counties that are in place," Johndroe said.

Neither Clinton nor the Office of Homeland Security has set a timetable for negotiations, though Clinton, who is optimistic, said she hopes to have the issues resolved soon.

"I think there's room for negotiation and compromise," she said.

Many firefighters concur, praising the ideas but insisting on results.

"I think all the proposals have good points. What they need to do is put them on the table, pick the good points and make it one," said Tony Pagano, a Yonkers firefighter.