By Philip Newman
A report prepared for U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said the average Democratic congressional district gets about $1 million in Homeland Security aid for firefighters while the average Republican district receives $1.36 million.
“We are saying, 'Mr. President, it is time to stop playing partisan politics in this time of great peril,'” said City Councilman Eric Gioia, (D-Woodside).
Maloney, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens), U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), and Gioia appeared at a National Firefighters Day news conference in front of FDNY Engine Co. 261, a firehouse at 37-20 29th St. in Long Island City shut down because of budget cuts.
“Our New York City firefighters are the front line warriors in the war on terror,” said Crowley. “The lack of funding for our firefighters is inexcusable.”
Weiner criticized Bush for inequitable spending at the expense of New York City, an established terrorist target.
“Bush has turned the Homeland Security budget into just another pork barrel spending program,” said Weiner. “That's the only way to explain how places like Minnesota, Wyoming and Kentucky keep getting bigger slices of the pie while New York City's gets smaller. The president's budget shortchanges New York City in the terror fight.”
The report said that despite an almost 50/50 split in congressional districts, Republican districts received 60 percent of Fire Act grants.
Maloney, who is chairman of the Task force on Homeland Security of the House Democratic Caucus, said “city firefighters will meet the terror threat first, but they are being thought of last when it comes to Homeland security funds from Washington.”
Maloney said the Fire Act grant program, the Homeland Security funding program, is sending a greater share of money to smaller towns and states and that terrorism experts agree that the major threat is to the nation's largest cities. Her report listed the state of Montana as receiving $9.07 per person in Fire Act funds while New York City gets 9 cents per person.
Maloney's report said the disparity was the result of an arbitrary funding limit that prevents any fire department from getting more than $750,000 even if a large city has requirements far above that of a rural district.
“In discussions with Homeland Security officials, they agree that the most endangered cities, such as New York City should get the most money to fight terrorism,” said Weiner. “But then when the checks are written, it's evident that somebody has decided differently.”
The firehouse where the news conference was held was one of two Queens stations scheduled to be shut down last spring by Mayor Bloomberg as part of a series of budget cuts. The Long Island City firehouse was closed after an epic struggle by neighborhood organizations, elected officials and in the courts. The other firehouse, home to Engine Co. 293 in Woodhaven, escaped the budget ax at the 11th hour.
Maloney's report said the closing of firehouses has meant longer firefighter response times, especially in Queens, where average response times increased 16 seconds in the six months following the firehouse closings.
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at email@example.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.