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June 20, 2017

Trump’s budget decimates our local first responders

After the Manchester bombing last month, local police officers, firefighters and paramedics were first at the scene. After the mass shooting inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, the first to respond were local first responders. The same was true after San Bernardino in 2015 and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Time and time again, we are reminded that local first responders are our first line of defense in response to acts of terrorism. Terrorist activity always carries significant national impact and requires our local governments to have additional manpower, specialized training and specific equipment available to our first responders. For years, the clear need to help fund these efforts has been recognized by politicians and presidents of both parties. That is why longtime homeland security policymakers were baffled upon learning President Trump’s budget decimates the very assistance that goes towards the first responders of our states and cities.

President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget slashes the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Federal Assistance programs by hundreds of millions of dollars. It does this by eliminating numerous assistance programs outright and by slashing the programs that our cities, states and transit systems need to prepare for and defend from terrorist attacks. With the terror threat constantly changing and plots becoming more and more complicated, now is not the time to make counterterror cutbacks.


In his budget, the president makes clear that he believes the responsibility for developing these capabilities rests at the local level. His budget aims to “encourage” states and cities to budget their own preparedness and demands that the cost burden be shifted from the federal government to our states and cities. However, this shows ignorance in how localities handle preparedness. State and local governments have budgetary problems of their own and do not have the resources to simply absorb this new cost. Acts of terror, while rare, have national impact and consequence, and we cannot expect every state, city and town to carry this burden on their own. This “you’re on your own” policy is completely contrary to the message the president often telegraphs to the nation’s law enforcement officers during his rallies and speeches.


But these cuts cannot be thought of as merely dollars and cents. They mean lost opportunities for first-responder training and harder choices about what protective gear and equipment communities can afford to provide first responders. It is clear that when the president released this budget he did not understand the long-term consequences of these shortsighted proposals. This budget stifles our first-responders’ resources and more troubling, their ability to prevent and to respond to attacks.


So where are the funds from these cuts going? Unfortunately, it seems that the Trump administration wants to free up funds to find money to build his unnecessary and unpopular border wall. It has long been demonstrated that a wall will not make our southern border more secure and stands no chance of preventing the kinds of terrorist attacks we are seeing at home and abroad. President Trump’s willingness to undermine the nation’s security and undercut our first responders just to fulfill a campaign promise is clear as day. Building a wall and simultaneously making massive cuts to FEMA’s first responder programs reflects President Trump’s fundamental misunderstanding of the threats our country faces and ignores the federal government’s obligations to its state and local partners to ensure national security. The budget is more than just ill-informed — it clearly has the potential to compromise the safety and security of all Americans.


At a time when terror threats are ever evolving, our local governments need federal support now more than ever. Abandoning the investments we have made to keep the country secure since 9/11 is simply intolerable. President Trump and his administration must reassess their priorities and make certain that they continue to support the first-responders in states and cities across the country. The security and safety of our nation depend on it.

By:  Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)
Source: The Hill