Emergency Money Coming, Ridge Tells States
By John Nagy, Staff Writer
"We remain committed to the $3.5 billion in first responder money that the president asked for last year," said Ridge, who spoke at a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) in Washington Wednesday.
The request President Bush submitted last Spring was more than 10 times larger than similar anti-terror appropriations made to state and local police, fire, medical and hazardous materials units before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
State and local officials had hoped to begin spending as early as September 2002 to train hundreds of thousands of emergency personnel to respond to attacks involving weapons of mass destruction and to supply them with badly needed equipment ranging from latex gloves to state-of-the-art radiation suits.
Facing budget shortfalls running into the tens of billions of dollars and dozens of other spending priorities, the states have little or no new money to dedicate to the purpose.
But legislation appropriating the money stalled as Congress debated which federal agency should disburse the money the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Department of Justice - and what spending limits should be set on it.
"We, candidly, do not want to spend a whole lot of time worrying about who the funding agency is going to be," Ridge told the NCSL.
"Our aspiration is to have it all channeled through FEMA," Ridge later explained. FEMA will become one of the new department's four main units when designated federal agencies merge in March.
Ridge addressed another funding concern raised by the panel's chairman, state Sen. Richard Moore (D-Mass.), about provisions requiring states to come up with matching funds.
"When things are flush, there's no reason in the world states shouldn't pick up part of the tab. We will be sensitive to the need and ... recognize the economic realities of the states," Ridge said.
Lawmakers welcomed Ridge's remarks. "Gov. Ridge has been very consistent," in his support for anti-terror work at the state and local level, said state Rep. Wes Marsh (R-Ariz.)
Ridge said he wants new communications equipment and protective gear to be compatible from one city or county to the next and to be directly tied to each state's comprehensive security plan.
He outlined his new department's functions and called his office's partnership with state and local government organizations "something we plan on sustaining, we need to sustain."
Ridge said recent meetings with newly-elected governors have reassured him that the transition of homeland security commands in 24 states and the introduction of hundreds of new state lawmakers will not compromise efforts to improve security and protect lives.
He said his office has begun identifying senior officials for security clearances so they can receive briefings that involve classified information.
"In my mind, all the governors understand the urgency and priority associated with homeland security. I don't think they're going to miss a beat," he said.