Cities are pushing back on the possibility of losing millions of dollars in U.S. anti-terrorism grants under President Donald Trump’s spending plan — the third straight White House that has moved to cut the funding.
The proposed budget would cut cash for the program from $605 million to nearly $449 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 and require cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas to pay 25 percent of the grants.
The administration says it is proposing the cost-share system, similar to other grant programs, to “share accountability” with states and cities.
But lawmakers and local officials argue that reducing funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative would undercut efforts to maintain safe communities. Cities have spent the money on command centers, active-shooter training and personnel to patrol airports, transit hubs and waterways.
Big cities have been down this road before, with funding fluctuating over the years.
President George W. Bush created the grant program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but scaled it back in his second term. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2017 budget suggested slashing the funding from $600 million to $330 million.
In each instance, local politicians reacted with outrage and questioned the wisdom of taking away money in the fight against terrorism. This year, Congress ignored Obama’s guidance and increased funding by $5 million.
But some cities that have received grants in previous years have not spent all the money, another reason the White House says the changes are needed.
The proposed cuts came a day after the deadly Manchester, England, concert bombing and the same day authorities in Las Vegas tried to ease concerns about the city being targeted in a recent Islamic State propaganda video. It encouraged knife and vehicle attacks and featured images of Sin City, Times Square in New York and banks in Washington, D.C.
Law enforcement officials in Orlando, Florida, told a congressional committee weeks after a nightclub became the site of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history that central Florida had missed out on needed training and opportunities to buy equipment because it had not made the cut to receive funding.
Grants are awarded to the highest-ranked urban areas on a list determined by risk of terrorist threats based on past plots or a known presence; whether its infrastructure is a valuable target; and the consequence of an attack on the population, economy or national security.
Last year, the 29 highest-ranked metro areas that applied for a grant received funding.
$3 million to Las Vegas
The Las Vegas area has spent the money on training and equipment for bomb and hazardous-material squads along with computer software and hardware at a law enforcement command center.
Las Vegas received almost $3 million in fiscal year 2016. Irene Navis, planning coordinator and assistant emergency manager in Nevada’s Clark County, said the area would be able to meet the proposed 25 percent cost-share requirement.
“Fortunately, not one agency is going to get the whole amount; it’s split up,” Navis said. “So, for one agency, it might be that they get $25,000 for equipment and the match is really small. Agencies that get a large amount of money, that’s something that they would have to consider. But, in general, in our urban area, it would not be a problem.”
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat whose district includes the Las Vegas Strip, called the funding change a “pay-to-play scheme.”
“It is unimaginable that the administration believes southern Nevada’s security will be improved by cutting vital programs that protect residents and travelers in our community,” she said.
But the government questions why state and local governments aren’t spending all the money if it’s so important.
“The federal government cannot afford to over-invest in programs that state and local partners are slow to utilize when there are other pressing needs,” according to a written justification from the Trump administration.
The office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has sparred with Obama and Trump on the grants, says that because of government procurement rules, it can take time for cities and states to spend the money. But he says that does not mean they have not allocated the money or don’t need it.
New York City received the largest grant last year at more than $178 million, followed by Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
“America’s cities are critical partners in the fight against terrorism — and taking away this funding would undermine the national priority to secure the homeland,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said in a statement.