Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responders (SAFER) Grant Program: An Analysis of Fiscal Federalism and How Local Governments utilize SAFER Grant Funding

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Virginia Tech


The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responders (SAFER) Grant Program: An Analysis of Fiscal Federalism and How Local Governments Utilize SAFER Grant Funding.

Thomas J. Layou ABSTRACT This dissertation presents a comprehensive analysis of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responders (SAFER) grant program's impact on Virginia's local governments, emphasizing their fiscal strategies, emergency management practices, and demographic relationships. By incorporating theories of fiscal federalism and the political economy, this study explores how SAFER grants, provided by the FEMA, influence local tax policies, economic stability, and the staffing levels in fire and emergency medical service departments, against the backdrop of a critical need for enhanced public safety post the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The second chapter provides a review of the literature tracing the evolution of fiscal federalism from its roots in the political philosophies of the Federalist Papers to its contemporary interpretations and applications. The study found gaps in the literature, providing opportunities for further exploration of how the current scholarship has been built upon the different generations of fiscal federalism. This study seeks to contribute to the literature by examining the relationship that federal grants have with local governments' preparation for emergencies through their local fire and emergency medical service staffing. The dissertation constructs a novel dataset covering SAFER grant allocations, local tax rates, and fire and emergency medical service budgets across Virginia's cities and counties from 2016 to 2022. It evaluates the grants' effects on budgetary decisions and staffing levels, utilizing a methodological framework that includes regression analysis, correlation coefficients, and event series analysis. The third chapter focuses on the socio-political and economic determinants affecting the distribution of the SAFER grant funding, revealing that jurisdictions with higher median household incomes receive more funding, contrary to expectations that economically disadvantaged areas are prioritized. This chapter also highlights the disparities in resource allocation and examines the equitable distribution between volunteer and professional fire departments and the relationship of political leanings on fund allocation. The fourth chapter explores the SAFER grants within the principal-agent framework, investigating their impact on local government tax policy and economic stability. It explores whether SAFER grants lead to changes in local tax policies and how they contribute to fiscal stability, especially during crises such as the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. The fifth chapter assesses the SAFER grants' effectiveness in increasing the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and improving public safety. It scrutinizes whether these grants supplement or supplant local budgets and their broader implications for budget allocations and incident reduction, which tie closely with the federal government's national preparedness goals. This dissertation advances emergency management scholarship by offering new insights into the allocation of SAFER grants in Virginia and its impact. It provides a multifaceted understanding of how federal funding influences local emergency services, fiscal policies, and community welfare, contributing valuable knowledge for policymakers, grant administrators, and scholars interested in enhancing public safety and preparedness.



Fiscal federalism, intergovernmental relations, SAFER grants, political economy, federal assistance, mitigation, resilience, preparedness, FEMA grants, fire departments, EMS, local government, Homeland Security, local fire preparedness, local fire de