By Rep. Anita Kulik
Organizations such as the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, our local fire departments and EMS companies, along with Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) are vital to the stability of our communities. These organizations rely on state funding to exist. As a legislator and the wife of a volunteer firefighter, I have come to know many women and men that serve in EMS programs and fire companies and know the unique problems they face, particularly with regard to finances.
I am pleased this year’s budget increased funding for these groups.
As is often the case, frequently “enabling legislation,” and other guidelines, need to be put in place for funding initiatives. The State Disaster Assistance program provides individual assistance to help people recover from emergencies not covered by other funding sources or insurance. The program was allocated $5 million, but specific information on the new appropriation isn’t yet available.
PEMA will publish guidelines to implement the program.
Also under PEMA, the general government operations funding increased from $10.6 million to $11.1 million. The Red Cross Extended Care Program received a $100,000 increase and $8 million was appropriated for hazard mitigation funding. Hazard mitigation planning reduces loss of life and property by minimizing the impact of disasters, according to FEMA.
Other emergency management funding will go to the Local Municipal Emergency Relief program, which will see an increase through Department of Community and Economic Development funding. The statewide Public Safety Radio System will also receive an increase in funding through the Pennsylvania State Police.
Ambulance rates for medical assistance received much needed increases for basic life support ambulances, advanced life support ambulances per loaded trip, and also increases for mileage beyond 20 miles. The Emergency Medical Services operating fund appropriation for emergency medical services received a 10.9% increase.
Pending enabling legislation, $1 million was appropriated for loan forgiveness and tuition assistance to active volunteer firefighters and EMS providers. Also pending the necessary legislation, $1 million was appropriated to the Department of Health for EMS training and $500,000 was appropriated to the Office of the State Fire Commissioner (OSFC) for emergency services training center capital grants.
Also going to the OSFC will be $500,000 for career fire department capital grants, $250,000 for a public safety campaign about fireworks safety and $500,000 for reimbursement to bomb squads for fireworks disposal.
Unused funds from the latter appropriation will be split between EMS grants and fire company grants.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs received increases in funding for numerous programs. The general government operations funding saw a 12% increase, with monies going to suicide prevention services for members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and VETConnect.
The minimum National Guard pay received an increase, from $100 per day for state active-duty members to $180 per day. Other programs that received increased funding were the National Guard Youth Challenge Program, the Armory Maintenance and Repair funding, and the Burial Detail Honor Guard funding.
Veterans Homes funding, Veterans Outreach Services funding, the Educational Assistance Program Fund, and the Paralyzed Veterans Pension funding all received increases.
Providing additional resources for our Veterans must be a priority for us. Our veterans have answered the call to keep our nation secure, and many of them find themselves in great need of assistance.
The funding came through with bi-partisan support of the Legislature. I hope that the recognition shown through the budget process will continue as we consider other initiatives to support our EMS programs, our volunteer fire companies, and other organizations and agencies that are vital to our safety.