- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

A bill changing how billions of federal dollars are to be channeled to first-responders and local governments has been delayed amid concerns by New York City officials about the way it would distribute the money.

The bill — dubbed the “Faster and Smarter Funding for First Responders Act” — had been scheduled for passage this week by Republican leadership.

“The leadership had told us to be ready to go on Wednesday,” said Ken Johnson, spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, adding that “concerns brought to us [by New York City] at the last minute” had derailed that timetable for the moment.

The bill would distribute the money based on a city’s or area’s likelihood of being a terrorist target. Currently, $3 billion in homeland security grants are doled out according to a population-based formula.

Friday, it became clear that the terms of the final deal might not garner the crucial support of New York City’s Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the state’s large congressional delegation.

Mr. Johnson said Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Cox planned to speak tomorrow. If their talks go well, he added, “we could still get the bill to the floor this week.”

But that may be easier said than done. New York City officials say they have become increasingly uneasy about the concessions made by Mr. Cox and his co-sponsors to secure the bill’s passage.

Most lawmakers, federal officials and state and local government representatives agree that the current system — which allocates 10 times more cash per capita to American Samoa than to New York state — is broken.

The bill originally sought to abolish both the population-based distribution formula and the state and territory minimums that explain the high totals for American Samoa.

Instead, it would have allocated funds based on the potential terrorist targets in a given state, intelligence about the threats to those targets and the level of preparedness of the first-responders who would have to deal with the aftermath of any attack.

But, House aides say, to secure the support of representatives from sparsely populated states that would lose out, Mr. Cox and his supporters had to agree to preserve the state minimum — albeit at a lower level.

“A compromise was reached,” Mr. Johnson said.

Other provisions of the bill also concerned New York City officials.

The city has spent billions of dollars equipping and training its first-responders and building an emergency-management system. Because the bill’s funding distribution is designed to raise the levels of preparedness across the country, jurisdictions without the plans or capacity for an effective response may get more money than those such as New York that are already prepared for the worst.

And because the bill also abolishes the Urban Areas Security Initiatives fund — a special allocation of cash for cities under high threat — the net effect could possibly be that New York ends up getting less money than under the present system.

“Until the homeland security grant board [that will allocate the funds according to the bill’s criteria] is set up, it is premature even to speculate that,” said Mr. Johnson, adding that New York’s concerns were “based on assumptions, not on facts.”

“If New York has more vulnerabilities than other places, they will get more money under this bill,” Mr. Johnson said.

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