Pugh asks Congress to maintain preparedness grants

'It is the local first responders who are first on the scene,' Pugh tells lawmakers.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh encouraged federal lawmakers Thursday to maintain current funding for disaster preparedness, arguing that recent cuts had forced the city to scale back some of its efforts to plan for the worst.

Speaking to the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Pugh said that the city had spent tens of millions of federal dollars on shelters, emergency communications and law enforcement tactical gear since 2003.

"It is the local first responders who are first on the scene when an event occurs and local officials who manage the response," Pugh, testifying on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, told the committee. "My basic message today is that mayors...strongly support the existing menu of preparedness programs."

Republican lawmakers have for years sought to find savings in the preparedness grant programs, suggesting that after billions of dollars spent since Hurricane Katrina, many communities should need less money going forward. Since 2003, more than $47 billion in preparedness grant funding has been awarded to state and local governments.

Hours before Pugh spoke, President Donald Trump unveiled a budget proposal that called for reducing state and local Federal Emergency Management Agency grants by $667 million. A reduction that large is unlikely to gain traction in Congress, but a cut of some size is plausible.

The budget document said the programs must provide more "measurable results" and ensure that the federal government isn't paying for work that should be the responsibility of state and local governments.

"We have to make sure that investments in the National Preparedness System are wise investments and the taxpayer is getting the biggest bang for its buck," said Rep. Lou Barletta, a Pennsylvania Republican and the chairman of the subcommittee.

Pugh's prepared testimony pointed to the Maryland Taskforce 2 Urban Search and Rescue team, designed to respond to disasters in cities. The taskforce is made up of two, 70-person teams designed to be self-sufficient for the first seven days of a recovery effort.

Because of previous cuts, Pugh said, the team has had difficulty hiring new members and paying for training and equipment.

"Recent cuts have reduced our capabilities to prevent, mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters -- both natural and man made," she said. "Additional cuts would make us weaker, not stronger."

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