Press Release: National Fire, Emergency Districts Excluded from CARES Act, Request Inclusion in Federal COVID-19 Relief as US Grapples with Fires, Hurricane

**For Immediate Release**                                                     

Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020                                                                  

Cole Karr, 417) 861-7418
Cliff Avery, SAFE-D, (512) 251-8101

National Fire, Emergency Districts Excluded from CARES Act, Request Inclusion in Federal COVID-19 Relief as US Grapples with Fires, Hurricane

National fire and emergency services stakeholders – including the Texas State Association of Fire and Emergency Districts (SAFE-D, -- are pressing House and Senate leadership to ensure fire and emergency services districts receive access to future local government aid in the impending coronavirus relief bill.

In a letter sent Monday, the 28-member coalition of national and state organizations representing special districts providing fire protection and ambulance service to millions of Americans stress how the inequitable and, in most cases, complete ack of access to COVID-19 relief funds has strained their ability to respond to significant events, such as wildfires across Texas and the west and Hurricane Laura on the Gulf Coast.

“These services are among the most critical at any given time,” the letter reads. “Yet, while city and county governments received millions of dollars in federal relief earlier this year, most of these fire and emergency services districts have not received, will not receive, or are still uncertain whether they will receive Coronavirus Relief Fund monies, further compounding their ability to handle simultaneous crises.”

Click here to read the full coalition letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Special districts are local, community-based political subdivisions of the state. Largely funded by property taxes and fees for service, many of these local governments provide critical infrastructure services – including fire protection, healthcare, water, irrigation and wastewater – and community enrichment – such as parks, libraries and resource conservation. Nearly 6,000 of the nation’s more than 30,000 special districts provide fire protection and emergency services in communities where a city or county does not.

“These special districts have incurred disproportionate amounts of unexpected COVID-19-releated expenses in response to COVID-19,” the coalition’s letter continues. “In fact, many report unbudgeted COVID-19 expenses totaling more than half of their annual operating revenues or, worse, exceeding their annual operating revenues. The pandemic has strained these essential community services, compounding the danger of the wildfire and hurricane seasons we knew were coming.”

The coalition, which includes the National Association of Fire and Emergency Officials, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Western Fire Chiefs Association, calls on Pelosi, McCarthy, McConnell and Schumer to lead and “expeditiously” include solutions to this issue. Namely, they urge inclusion of the bipartisan Special Districts Provide Essential Services Act, introduced by Senators Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., in late July and co-sponsored by Senators Martha McSally, R-Ariz.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

The Texas State Association of Fire and Emergency Districts (SAFE-D), which represents more than 335 Texas emergency services districts in Texas, is a member of the coalition and supports the Special Districts Provide Essential Services Act.

“Emergency services districts (ESDs) directly provide fire protection or emergency medical services or both to more than 8 million Texans,” SAFE-D Executive Director Cliff Avery said. “And, through mutual aid, they have provided these services to all Texans. Like counties and cities in these challenging times, they need federal dollars to make sure  the can continue to provide services.”

The legislation would require states to direct 5 percent of future Coronavirus Relief Fund allocations to special districts at their discretion. The Senate bill provides flexibility for states to best use the funding according to their local needs and COVID-19 impacts. The Sinema-Cornyn-Harris measure builds on special districts’ efforts for relief access that began with Congressman John Garamendi, D-Calif., who introduced the original House version of the legislation in June.