EDITORS’ NOTE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED.
Nearly $1 million in Homeland Security funding typically earmarked for fire departments has been awarded to ACORN before Congress signaled that it intended to cut off federal funding to the embattled group.
The grant to ACORN’s Louisiana office became public in September before the House and Senate voted to cut off ACORN funding after employees were caught on video advising a fake prostitute and pimp on scams.
It was one of only three such grants issued to the state and made up almost 80 percent of the firefighting money earmarked for Louisiana, prompting one of the U.S. senators from the state to demand that the funds be taken back.
“I request that you rescind this grant based on a history of abuse of federal dollars by ACORN and their clear lack of expertise in this area,” said Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican.
When asked how the money would be spent, ACORN spokesman Brian Kettenring issued a statement criticizing the senator, who confessed in the past to having used an escort service.
“Senator Vitter knows a lot more about prostitution rings than anyone here does, so we’ll defer to him on any matters pertaining to the videos attacking ACORN,” the statement read. It did not explain how the group plans to spend the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.
Mr. Vitter, who was routinely notified of the grant before it became public, sent his letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Sept. 22, saying the money should be given “to a more deserving group of first responders.”
One such group might have been the St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 3, which applied for a $120,000 grant to purchase smoke alarms for low-income families after a January fire killed four childrenin a home that had no working detectors.
“We wanted to buy smoke detectors to spread to homes all over the community to prevent that from happening again,” Chief Charles Flynn said in an interview Tuesday.
“I have no problem with not getting a grant, I’ve lost grants before,” said Chief Flynn, one of the fire officials who complained to Mr. Vitter in a letter.
“My issue is ACORN in New Orleans. Their mission statement says nothing about fire safety or fire prevention. It bothered me that ACORN got $1 million and there are so many smaller and bigger departments that have a need for that money.”
The Monroe Fire Department was the only squad in Louisiana to receive a grant and will be awarded $192,000. The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office will receive $62,000.
ACORN received $997,402, slightly less than the maximum allowable grant of $1 million. A total of $35 million was available for the grants project to fire districts across the country this year.
“Several Louisiana fire departments have voiced their serious concerns to me over the award of these funds to ACORN,” Mr. Vitter said in the letter.