Senator Hassan, New Hampshire Fire Chiefs Discuss Budget Shortfalls for Community Fire Departments Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Participants also Discussed Access to Substance Use Disorder Services, Combating Homelessness
NEW HAMPSHIRE – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan held a virtual discussion yesterday with New Hampshire fire safety professionals about the challenges that fire departments are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"To say that you guys are busy right now is an understatement,” Senator Hassan said. “You're managing a workforce that is essential to our safety -- on the front lines in the middle of a pandemic -- on top of the challenges we already had, which haven't gone away, like the opioid epidemic. I am incredibly grateful to all of you for your service, for your professionalism, for your partnership over the years, and for your advocacy."
On the call, the participants agreed that one of their biggest concerns is a lack of adequate funding for fire departments as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain state and local government budgets.
“We're looking into the future and we all tend to get a little nervous,” said Chief Ken Jones, President of New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, “Especially hearing Governor Sununu forecasting a possible $500 million shortfall during the next two years and what trickle-down effect that will [have] to our state and to each and every one of us in our various departments.”
"For lack of a better term, are we going to see 'fear' cuts?,” asked Chief Kirk Beattie of the Laconia Fire Department. “Are they going to cut our budgets just out of concern? You know we've weathered the storm in the first three, four months. [We’ve received] support from the federal delegation, obviously getting us some money to back up on that, but what does next year look like?"
Senator Hassan agreed on the need for more funding to state and local governments, saying, "The longer [communities] don't have an answer on what kind of federal aid is going to be available, the more uncertainty there is, and when there's uncertainty there are cuts - that's been my experience - because you want to prepare for the worst.”
Senator Hassan is pushing for an additional COVID-19 relief package that would include significant federal funding for state and local governments. In April, she led a bipartisan group of Senators – who were also former governors – in calling on the administration to issue guidance to states on how they can use funding from the federal CARES Act to address budget shortfalls.
Additionally, Assistant Fire Chief Brendan Burns of the Manchester Fire Department spoke about the critical role that outside organizations, such as the National Guard, play in assisting fire departments in their day-to-day operation.
“The outside agencies – once they lose their real quick influx here of funding – those things are going to fall back on us," Assistant Fire Chief Burns continued. “We on the front line get a lot of the initial funding, but I think it's important to remember our partner agencies in the public and private [sectors] as well that let us do our job too.”
The participants on the call also spoke about the issue of homelessness in communities across New Hampshire, and urged additional support to help combat this challenge. Senator Hassan echoed their concerns, and discussed her efforts to help support individuals now that many states have lifted eviction moratoriums, including New Hampshire. The Senator shared that she is working to establish an Emergency Rental Assistance program to provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help families and individuals pay their rent during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
Lastly, the participants on the call discussed the importance of having a ready supply of personal protective equipment, and thanked the Senator for her efforts to get additional personal protective equipment to first responders across the country.
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