U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, rebutting complaints from the nation's governors, warned states on Wednesday (July 18) that federal grants to help them combat terrorism "are not meant to be annuities or entitlements" and could continue to decline in coming years.
Chertoff issued the warning as he announced $1.7 billion in allocations for state and local homeland security programs this fiscal year. That figure, which has declined steadily from a high of $2.9 billion in fiscal 2004, represents total funding for states and localities in five separate Department of Homeland Security grant programs, which help support emergency infrastructure ranging from law enforcement to medical response units.
The National Governors Association (NGA) this week sent Chertoff a letter complaining that federal dollars for state and local anti-terror programs "have decreased precipitously since their inception." The governors wrote that "sustained and predictable funding for homeland security grant programs is critical to continuing our efforts to develop and maintain state, regional and national capabilities."
Chertoff, however, stressed that the federal government has poured more than $23 billion into state and local coffers for anti-terror programs over the years and that governors and other officials should not expect federal funding levels to remain constant. Maintaining the levels that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, could mean cutting into other federal homeland security responsibilities, such as managing the U.S. border and providing security at airports, he said at a news conference.
"These grants are meant to be an investment in capital. They are meant to build capabilities," Chertoff said. "They are not meant to be annuities or entitlements, where you get the same amount every year, like a Social Security check."
States and localities shouldn't assume they'll get the same amount next year, he said. "In fact, as communities begin to build their capabilities, we should see them getting less money so we can spread it out a little bit more widely among those that haven't had any opportunity at all," he said.
Chertoff also noted that states haven't yet spent all the federal funding from past fiscal years. Less than half of the money has been spent, he said.
But the governors, in their letter, said it was "troubling" that the federal government would tie current funding levels to unspent grant money, noting the length of time it takes to award contracts and carry out homeland security proposals.
The Department of Homeland Security this year will disburse money to states and localities based on what Chertoff called a "very straightforward" formula taking into account factors such as population, the threat of a terrorist attack and the economic impact an attack would have.
Under the single grant program most important to states, the top five recipients are the populous states of California , Texas , New York , Florida and Illinois . A separate program that directs more grant money to vulnerable urban areas instead of states allots almost $140 million among 46 metropolitan areas, with the most going to New York City .
Separately, Chertoff and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez also released a breakdown of how much each state is eligible to receive from a $1 billion one-time grant to help states and localities improve emergency communications during crises. The money is to come from the planned auction of communications licenses for public airwaves as the nation switches to all-digital TV broadcasts.
The grants, made using a similar formula of risk assessment, provide California , Texas and New York with the most funding. The grants will be awarded by Sept. 30, according to the Commerce Department.