Rep. Brian Higgins' important efforts to ensure that Buffalo Niagara is eligible for millions in federal homeland security funding has rightfully won bipartisan support in the House. Now it's time for the Senate to act.
The Department of Homeland Security excluded Buffalo from the Urban Area Security Initiative grant program for the current fiscal year and plans to do the same for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1. An amendment by Higgins would restore the region's eligibility for funding next year.
Last year, the Buffalo area received $5.5 million under that program, which provides local law enforcement with communications equipment and training to respond to homeland security emergencies. Higgins, D-Buffalo, argued that Buffalo and other smaller regions should not be eliminated from the program simply because of federal budget limitations.
The House vote was a model of bipartisanship. The amendment by Democrat Higgins passed in the Republican House by a vote of 273 to 150. The Senate is expected to start work soon on the Homeland Security Appropriation bill. When it does, senators should include language maintaining Urban Area Security Initiative eligibility for smaller urban areas, including Buffalo.
Homeland Security wanted to limit the grants to large metro areas, dropping the smaller areas because they rank lower in terms of security risk. That ranking is based on population, population density, specific characteristics that could increase the risk of a terror attack, proximity to critical national infrastructure and the potential economic impact of an attack.
Excluding those smaller regions from the Homeland Security program despite the risks they face was unconscionable. The Buffalo Niagara region is home to four international road bridges and the Niagara Power Project, the state's largest electricity producer, not to mention the Lackawanna Six al-Qaida terrorist cell. This region sits along two of the Great Lakes, the world's largest supply of fresh water. We are within 500 miles of roughly 55 percent of the U.S. population and 62 percent of the Canadian population.
That information should have been enough to persuade the Department of Homeland Security to provide funding. But because $780 million was cut from the program, Homeland Security reduced by nearly half the number of regions receiving the anti-terrorism money. Besides Buffalo, the amendment would make Rochester, Syracuse and Albany eligible for the funding in 2012.
Thanks to Higgins and the support of Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Hamburg, and Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and members from California, Oregon, Florida and Minnesota, among others, these smaller communities could be once again eligible for funding.
The Senate should follow course, including the language keeping the Urban Area Security Commission eligibility for all 64 urban areas. The nation is facing a fiscal crisis, but public safety must come first.