Congressmen Bill Pascrell Jr. and Josh Gottheimer encouraged local fire departments Monday to apply for federal dollars to finance their recruiting efforts and help close the gap between how much North Jersey taxpayers send to Washington and how much they get back.
TEANECK — Congressmen Bill Pascrell Jr. and Josh Gottheimer encouraged local fire departments Monday to apply for federal dollars to finance their recruiting efforts and help close the gap between how much North Jersey taxpayers send to Washington and how much they get back.
Pascrell, D-Paterson, and Gottheimer, D-Wyckoff, appeared together at Teaneck’s Windsor Road firehouse to announce that applications for federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants were now being accepted. Grant money can be used by volunteer and paid squads alike to recruit, train and retain firefighters.
Gottheimer, a first-term congressman who was sworn in last week, said 5th District towns get back only a fraction of their federal tax dollars. Securing federal grants, he said, is a way to fix that imbalance.
“We’re one of the top tax-paying districts in the entire country, yet we’re toward the bottom in what we get back,” he said. “Why should Birmingham [Alabama] or Biloxi [Mississippi] get more support and training for firefighters, while we’re left out in the cold?”
Pascrell said SAFER grants provide critical assistance to departments nationwide, resulting in faster response times.
“There’s no more selfless job than that of a firefighter,” Pascrell said. “Supporting them is an investment in our safety and the safety of our families.”
The news conference marked Gottheimer’s first public event in New Jersey since taking office, and his first with Pascrell. And Gottheimer used the opportunity to contrast his priorities with those of his predecessor, seven-term GOP Congressman Scott Garrett.
During his campaign, Gottheimer accused Garrett, a well-known social and fiscal conservative, of failing to support spending bills and secure grants that would benefit the region. Gottheimer dubbed this “the Garrett tax.”
Though the new congressman didn’t mention Garrett by name Monday, he said grants like those from SAFER were “exactly what we have failed, as a district, to fight for.”
“You’ve got to have help advocating for it,” he said. “We’ve been sitting on the sidelines without somebody helping.”
Gottheimer said he plans to send a letter to local departments telling them the grants are available, and offering his office’s help in applying.
Pascrell said SAFER grants provide critical assistance to departments nationwide, and response times have improved as a result. Nearly $2.5 billion has been awarded through the program since 2005, Pascrell said, more than $200 million of which came to New Jersey.
The grants are distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In 2015, the agency awarded $340 million in SAFER grants. About $38.5 million came to New Jersey, including a $1.1 million award to the city of Passaic.
The grant application period opened Monday, the congressmen said. It closes Feb. 10.
Teaneck Fire Chief Anthony Verley was unsure if his department would apply for the grants, and will discuss it with the Teaneck Township Council.