Republicans' Homeland Insecurity

The Republican majority's Homeland Security shutdown is a staggering display of legislative incompetence, which could have concrete and severe impacts for New York City and its surrounding areas.

Congress has appropriated billions to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in recent years to help communities prevent disasters, respond to emergencies, and deal with severe weather events like Hurricane Sandy.

A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security means FEMA grant administrators are furloughed and grants are not processed for three programs focused on staffing and equipping local fire departments and emergency response personnel. Every month, this will cost our region millions of dollars in funding and sets back efforts to keep New York safe.

The longer this shutdown drags on, the more it also jeopardizes timely disbursement of 2015 grants for New York and its surrounding areas.

  • In 2014, the New York City region received more than178 million in Urban Area Security Initiative grants, and New York State received90 million in Emergency Management Performance Grants and State Homeland Security Grants.
  • The Metropolitan Transit Agency (MTA) - which can't afford to lose a single dollar devoted to safety of riders - received more than18 million in transit grants.
  • Cities throughout the region - Bayonne, Newark, Perth Amboy, Jersey City, Linden, and Kearny, for example - received grants of up to a half million dollars to improve port safety and security, as did Union, Nassau and Westchester Counties. The New York Police Department (NYPD) and Fire Department of New York (FDNY) received a total of more than 8 million.

If the Republican majority does not end this political charade, communities and agencies that depend on this funding will not receive it.

Beyond these direct impacts to New York, because the majority of DHS employees are considered "essential," a shutdown would force upwards of 200,000 Secret Service agents, TSA screeners, border agents, FEMA disaster preparedness experts, and members of the Coast Guard to work without pay.

Just this month, two Coast Guard cutters rescued a tugboat delivering home heating oil up the Hudson River, which had become stuck in thick ice. How can we ask these brave men and women to do this dangerous work for free?

It is immoral for Congress's dysfunction to paralyze the financial security of federal security professionals working to keep safe our borders, waters, aviation system, communities, and much more.

As the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, I was one of four bipartisan negotiators that reached a deal on Homeland Security funding levels and policy issues in December. Rather than putting this agreement on the floor for a vote, House Republican leadership made the political calculation to hold it hostage to ideological policy riders reversing the president's executive actions on immigration.

We could end this disgrace today by enacting H.R. 861, which I introduced with my colleague Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Subcommittee. It is a clean Homeland Security funding bill, which every House Democrat has committed to supporting. It would need a mere 30 Republican votes out of 245 to pass the House.

For the sake of New York's security, and the safety of Americans nationwide, Republican leadership must reverse this dangerous course and end the politics of government shutdown.

The writer represents New York's 17th Congressional District (Westchester/Rockland) and serves as Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.