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“We can all understand that there are never enough funds to allocate for all the deserving requests of fire departments, and each year there are many more requests than funds available,” he wrote. “But when so many fire departments throughout the nation are struggling for funding for important and lifesaving projects, how is it that a non-fire department with no clear expertise in fire safety and prevention is given such a large award for fire safety?”

“These firefighters that put their lives on the line for the safety of their communities deserve a full explanation of this award,” Mr. Vitter said.

The money, formally awarded for fiscal year 2008, was given to the ACORN Institute, which bills itself as a research and training facility “to combat the poverty, discrimination and community deterioration that keeps low-income people from taking advantage of their rights and opportunities.”

This is the second year ACORN has been awarded the fire prevention and safety grant. In the 2007 fiscal year, ACORN received $450,484 out of Louisiana’s $859,596 share.

Matthew Chandler, Homeland Security spokesman, said Ms. Napolitano will respond directly to Mr. Vitter.

“The department does not respond to correspondence through the media,” Mr. Chandler said.

Mr. Vitter’s office said the senator had not received a response as of Tuesday afternoon.

FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens said no funds had been distributed.

FEMA’s Web site says that in addition to fire departments, the grants are sometimes awarded to community organizations that are “recognized for their experience and expertise in fire prevention and safety programs and activities.”

Out of 200 fire-prevention and research grants announced last week to fire organizations, governments and universities primarily, a half-dozen went to community groups that included ACORN; Safe Kids of Clark County, Nevada; Geneva County Children’s Non-Profit Council of Alabama; and the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.

The money can be used for purchasing smoke detectors, media campaigns, arson-prevention programs, and wildfire prevention.

Republicans had long been critical of ACORN, which also is under investigation in several states on voter-fraud and other corruption charges. But Democrats have begun abandoning the group since the series of sting videos were released on Andrew Breitbart’s investigative Web site starting in early September.

The Senate voted Sept. 14 to cut off funding for ACORN in response to the release; the House followed suit three days later. The two bills will have to be combined before a final vote takes place.

However, the Internal Revenue Service says it will eject ACORN from the agency’s volunteer tax assistance program, and the Census Bureau has excluded the group from helping with the 2010 census.

The FEMA grant was revealed as ACORN Chief Executive Officer Bertha Lewis and Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell sparred over how much money was embezzled from the group by a top official nearly a decade ago.

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