Maine Emergency Management Agency to Lose 1.5 Million from Budget

The Maine Emergency Management Agency, which distributes a sizable chunk of the federal money that comes to the state for homeland security and emergency response needs, has accepted the fact that it will have to make do with $1.5 million less this year.

But MEMA officials are having a harder time adjusting to indications that the situation will only get worse in 2012.

Bruce Fitzgerald, the agency’s deputy director, said deeper cuts to grants that help local first responders upgrade equipment and improve capabilities for duties such as handling a hazardous materials spill could make it difficult to find money to pay the salaries of as many as half of the agency’s 28 employees.

MEMA learned this week that its homeland security grant will be $5.1 million this year, compared to $6.6 million for 2010. And if a bill passed by the U.S. House earlier this year is allowed to stand, the agency will have to absorb a 30 to 40 percent cut in 2012.

MEMA keeps 20 percent of its grant to cover administrative costs and shares the balance with county and local agencies, Fitzgerald said.

”We knew this (2011) hit was coming and we made plans accordingly,” Fitzgerald said Wednesday. ”The big question mark is what happens in 2012.”

Other Maine recipients of homeland security grants are feeling the pinch as well: Figures from the Department of Homeland Security show that state and local agencies are receiving a total of $11.4 million this year, compared to $14.1 million in 2010, excluding payments to local fire departments.

Maine fire departments received $2.4 million last year, according to federal figures. The 2011 figure has yet to be announced, though that pot of funding also is expected to drop.

The homeland security funding decrease is part of a federal budget crunch that is affecting states even as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaches.

Maine fared relatively well in competing for the 2011 grants, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The $2.1 billion distributed to states is $780 million less than what was handed out for 2010.

Not all Maine’s 2011 homeland security grants fell steeply:

The $3.3 million the state will get in 2011 for the emergency management performance grants program is about the same as the 2010 funding, as is the $1 million for the port security program; Maine got $829,000 for a driver’s license security program, up from about $800,000 in 2010; and money for a northern border security initiative was down slightly to about $1.01 million.

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