Rhode Island's Homeland Security Funding Cut in Half

Jun. 1--Rhode Island's share of federal homeland security grants has been cut in half, leaving many of the state's safety and security programs in jeopardy.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the recipients of the $1.7 billion in grants for fiscal year 2006. Rhode Island will get $7.8 million -- about half of what it received in 2005 and far less than what it requested.

Rhode Island has always been among the bottom quarter of states in the total amount of homeland security funding. But it's never dropped this low before.

This time, the state ranked 48th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The executive director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, which distributes the federal grants to local communities and statewide programs, said his agency will meet with state and local officials to decide which current projects will be financed.

Executive Director Robert J. Warren said he intends to maintain the state's first urban search-and-rescue team, six hazardous-materials teams and seven decontamination teams -- all of which were formed with homeland security money and were deployed to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Those regional rescue teams can be used for any type of disaster, Warren said.

The only other sure thing: some cities and towns won't get homeland security grants.

"We're not in a position to distribute to all these cities and towns as we did last year," said state homeland security director John Aucott.

U.S. Rep. James Langevin, who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said first-responders were being forced to "do more with less."

"I am disappointed that state officials will be forced to become creative with our state's homeland security efforts due to decreased funding levels for this year," Langevin said in a statement.

State emergency officials had anticipated that Rhode Island's grant money would decrease for federal fiscal year 2006. The federal government has shifted grant money to 46 major urban areas; Boston was the only New England city. The Department of Homeland Security also changed the formula for deciding how money would be distributed. The base amount of each grant is based on population, with additional amounts based on risk and vulnerability for each state and urban area.

"Our goal is to greatly enhance the collective preparedness of the nation while making certain that finite resources are directed to areas most at risk and to solutions that are innovative and regionally driven," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a news release yesterday.

The finding: Rhode Island is just not that vulnerable.

California is getting the most homeland security money, $231.9 million, followed by New York at $183.6 million, Florida at $100.1 million, and Texas at $89.8 million.

Among the urban areas, New York City is receiving the most, $124.4 million, followed by the Los Angeles/Long Beach area at $80.6 million, and Chicago at $52.2 million.

Although this state of more than a million people is snuggled between Boston and New York City, Rhode Island's federal financing for homeland security falls short of the grants going to the rural states of Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Three of the four have smaller populations than Rhode Island.

Compared with other New England states, Rhode Island is behind Connecticut ($13.5 million), Massachusetts ($41.2 million), New Hampshire ($7.88 million), and Vermont ($10.9 million). Maine is receiving $7.7 million.

Rhode Island had requested nearly $60 million in funding -- the total amount the state has received since 2001. Rhode Island was granted $16 million in 2005, and $21.3 million in 2004.

The state wanted the money for various projects, such as writing detailed plans to handle catastrophes, finishing a statewide interoperable radio communications project that will allow first-responders throughout the state to communicate during a disaster, and purchasing portal radiological detection equipment to screen transportation.

Previous grants had been used to buy millions of dollars in emergency equipment, begin the interoperable communications project and outfit and train teams for hazardous materials and decontamination, and urban search and rescue.

Governor Carcieri said he was disappointed. "While I'm pleased that federal officials don't believe the Ocean State is a target, Rhode Island deserves to receive federal funding necessary to protect our citizens from terrorist threats and natural disasters.

"Over the last few years, we have made a lot of progress in upgrading our capacity to deter and respond to threats," he said in a statement.

" . . . Rhode Island is poised to take the next step. But in order to continue the improvements we've already begun, the federal government must do their part by providing us with the homeland security funding we need and deserve."

<<Providence Journal, The (RI) (KRT) -- 06/02/06>>