Lawmakers Question New Terror Funding
However, Congressmembers Anthony Weiner and Carolyn Maloney, who have been seeking changes in the grants to favor high threat cities, tempered their approval of the new distribution formula because of other new elements included in it.
Weiner characterized it as “one step forward and three steps back” while Maloney complained, “Revamping the high-threat grants has become an annual occurrence that doesn’t always lead to better results.”
Meanwhile, City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria), who, like Weiner and Maloney, has argued strongly that security funds must be based on threat or risk and not political considerations, stated: “New York City deserves its fair share and hopefully this decision will do just that. When terrorist laptops are found, there aren’t sketches of Wisconsin dairy farms on them but sketches of critical New York City infrastructure.”
What gave Weiner and Maloney pause before claiming a genuine victory for New York City was the fact that the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), for the first time, did not attach dollar amounts to the grants, expanded the list of cities eligible for the grants and for the first time said it would consider hurricane-prone states for grants.
All three lawmakers in the past have been sharply critical of the fact that anti-terror dollars are going to small cities where there is little threat of a terror attack. Meanwhile, New York and other major cities that are prime terror targets are shortchanged on grant money.
Weiner noted while he found it good that the main determinant for allocating funds would now be the degree of threat to a municipality, three new problems had arisen in the DHS formula for distribution.
Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn) identified these problems as: forcing New York City to compete with more than 95 small cities for the funds; using some grants to protect against hurricanes and other natural disasters, and reducing the overall amount of funding by $64 million.
Congressmember Vito Fossella a Staten Island Republican and influential member of the city’s congressional delegation, commented, “The concern I have is that there may be uses for this money for things other than terrorism.” He added that the New York Police Department is occupied in watching for terrorist attacks, “not sitting at the beach watching for a hurricane.”
Weiner complained that the funding list still “includes places that no one in their right mind would think was at risk of a terrorist attack.”
Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan), chair of the House Democratic Task Force On Homeland Security, said that revamping the high-threat grants has become an annual occurrence that doesn’t always lead to better results. She said she was hopeful that the latest change would be positive, and she urged the Bush presidential administration also to distribute funds to states based on risk.
She stated: “It’s a new year and once again DHS has a new way to distribute high-threat money.I hope this time they get it right. Over the last few years we’ve seen the funding to New York City yo-yo from a high of $207 million to a low of $47 million, and we’ve seen the number of cities sharing from the same pot of money balloon from seven to 50. We will have to wait to see how much New York is awarded this year, especially considering how DHS has again expanded the list of cities now eligible.”
Maloney recalled that the first year, when the seven highest-threat cities received the high threat funding, was probably the “cleanest and most efficient use of this money.” She also pointed out that high threat money is separate from the regular grants to states.
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the new formula, saying, “I think that’s exactly what we’ve been screaming for all along.”
United States Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York), one of the leaders seeking the changes in formula, stated: “This seems to be a good step in that direction and we applaud it.” But, he cautioned, “We should wait to see how the funding is distributed.”
According to a study by Weiner staffmembers, New York City will receive $8 million in 2006 under the new formula, the largest share of the anti-terror security funds.
Los Angeles follows with $4 million, Chicago with almost $2.9 million and the Bay area of California and Dallas/Fort Worth with about $2 million each.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the new funding guidelines last Tuesday. “We have to invest our federal money strategically, protecting those communities where there are national and regional implications, using a disciplined analytical method that properly evaluates the risks.”
Weiner, a member of the Subcommittee On Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, said a study done by his staff revealed that under Chertoff’s new plan, a majority of the country will now be covered by urban homeland security grants.
This means, he said, cities such as Omaha, Nebraska population 390,000 and Louisville, Kentucky’s 256,000 will be competing with New York City, with a population greater that 8 million “for the same pot of money.”
But, he conceded, “The news is not all bad. The system will now be based primarily on threat and risk and New York City could be eligible for more funds than in the past. But before we claim victory, let’s acknowledge that there are a lot of cities on this list that should not be there. The Department of Homeland Security needs to get serious about what areas are actually high risk and we as New Yorkers must remain steadfast on this issue.”
To increase New York’s chances of getting its just share of funding, Weiner said he plans to introduce a bill he authored in 2004 to ensure that more high threat funding comes here. The bill would cap the number of high threat–high density areas at 15, and then amend the funding formula to weigh critical infrastructure and threat more heavily. The bill would also mandate that the anti-terror funds will go directly to cities rather than to states which, he said, receive them and keep 20 percent.
New York City has been on a rollercoaster over the past several years regarding the anti-terror funds it received. In 2003 the city received $124.8 million, in 2004 only $49.7 million, and last year $207.5 million.
Weiner noted that in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security designated New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as prime target areas.
Since then, he went on, DHS expanded the list from seven major cities to 46 areas that include more than 600 different cities and towns, covering 54 percent of the country’s population. Included on this list are Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, site of the Andy Warhol Museum; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Knots Camp Snoopy Amusement Park is located, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, site of the Miller Brewing Company.
“I am all for protecting the beer industry in Milwaukee, but not with the same funds used to protect Wall Street and the United Nations from a terrorist attack,” Weiner said.