CARES Act Did Not Do Enough for Small Town Governments

CARES Act - Firefighter and EMS Fund

While we often hear of the funding woes that large cities face in order to fund emergency services, it is the fire departments that serve America’s smallest towns however, who are most hard up for resources. That is largely due to the fact that the smaller the town, the lower the revenue collected from taxes. What is even worse, many other small town fire departments are without a formal funding mechanism, and rely solely on voluntary contributions.

A provision in the most recent stimulus package passed by Congress, the CARES act, recognizes that public services will experience budget cuts due to declining revenue and creates an application process for local governments to help clear budgetary gaps in the coming year. This provision however only takes care of towns with populations that exceed 500,000 people. 

CARES Act - Firefighter and EMS Fund

As far back as April, Chief Gary Ludwig, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs called on congress to protect America’s fire departments- “Firefighters need a hero,” Ludwig said. “So do the people they serve. It’s up to Congress to fill that role by solving two crucial COVID-19 problems. One is a classic Washington logjam and the other is ensuring enough money to keep fire/EMS stations open around the country.

“Our brothers and sisters in law enforcement are already putting to work some of their much needed $850 million from the March CARES Act,” Ludwig said. “At the same time, a significantly smaller pool of money for firefighters to battle COVID-19 is still stuck in Washington. That $100 million isn’t available to fire departments and likely won’t be for another month or two. Only Congress can fix this.”

Six months later and Congress has done little else for the American people. Experts initially expected a stimulus package back in June or July, but with talks between Republicans and Democrats stalled through Labor Day experts aren’t foreseeing a package being passed until late September at the earliest. In the meantime New York City, one of the largest recipients of stimulus money with over $1.4 billion received, has reported it has spent all of those funds as of August 2nd. With little stimulus money remaining, Mayor Bill DeBlasio has threatened to layoff thousands of EMTs as FDNY prepares to cut $38 million from its budget- a huge blow to an already struggling agency. “How do you decrease the workforce that’s already struggling to maintain running ambulances every day?” Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, the EMT union, said in an interview. 

With so much at stake, Congress needed to have taken actions months ago to protect our country’s first line of defense against the novel Coronavirus. It is imperative that steps be taken before more cities around the country are forced to layoff those we should be honoring most in this difficult time.

One thing is certain: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated systemic issues that firefighters & EMS personnel have been facing for years. The lack of funding- including lifesaving supplies and resources- is not a new issue, but has become even more high-stakes during this unprecedented national emergency. Now our first responders are facing a grim reality head-on, so what are we going to do about it? Read more here.