Small state rules remain for homeland security funds

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(Host) The state of Vermont has won an important victory over future funding for homeland security programs. The U.S. Senate has rejected an effort to deny small states like Vermont a minimum share of the Agency’s allocations. The decision means that Vermont will receive an additional $10 million in the new fiscal year for local emergency response efforts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) It was a battle that pitted a number of larger states like New York and California against many of the smaller states. The issue was whether or not the small states should be guaranteed a minimum amount of money in the distribution of funds through the Agency of Homeland Security.

For the past two years, at the urging of Senator Patrick Leahy, all states have received at least three-quarters of one percent of the Homeland Security Budget. This so called “small state minimum” has brought $40 million to Vermont. The vast majority of this money has been used to strengthen the capacity of local first responder units like fire and police departments and emergency medical teams.

The larger states argued that the small state minimum sent money to areas that don’t face serious terrorist threats; instead they wanted a larger share of the budget for their own programs.

Leahy successfully fought to keep the small state minimum as part of the bill:

(Leahy) “I think what we’ve done is made it very clear that small states have certain needs and large states have certain needs and it doesn’t have to be an either/or. We can take care of both. If you have a large state – they’ve got certain basic infrastructure in place, they’ve got a lot of the EMS and the communications gear and the training facilities that small states don’t have.”

(Kinzel) Public Safety Department Commissioner Kerry Sleeper says the small state minimum has been vital to help upgrade equipment used by first responders throughout the state. Sleeper rejects the argument that small states don’t need money in the fight against terrorism:

(Sleeper) “First of all the fact that we’re a border state and our close proximity to the city of Montreal places us in a significantly higher risk than many states in the country. It’s acknowledged that border states are at higher risk. And secondly, I would argue that those larger states already have significant capacity.”

(Kinzel) Sleeper says virtually all of the federal funds that been allocated to the state in the past 24 months have been spent on equipment that the first responders use every day.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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