WASHINGTON — More of a $765 million counter-terrorism program will go to cities at greater risk, the Homeland Security Department said Tuesday, cheering those who say too much has been sent to communities unlikely to face major threats.
The announcement created potential winners and losers among dozens of metropolitan areas competing for funds from the urban area security initiative, which is being cut from the $855 million Congress provided last year.
“I think that’s exactly what we have been screaming for all along,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. New York received $207 million from the program last year, by far the most any community received.
Homeland Security officials said they will not announce how much each qualifying metropolitan area will receive until June, after a competition that will include agency scrutiny of their plans for using the money. That means there could be months of lobbying by city officials and their representatives in Congress before any final decisions are made.
The funds can also be used to prepare communities to respond to a natural disaster or a health crisis, such as a flu pandemic.
35 top candidates
The agency said 35 metropolitan areas will have to apply for funding and show that they have a good use for the money. Those cities include Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans, Denver and Miami.
Only one city, Memphis, Tenn., was added to the list of eligible cities this year. The eligible communities are in 29 states, plus the District of Columbia.
The decision to restructure payments was bad news for 11 cities that had previously been awarded such money. They will be given “sustainment” funding to finish work already started, but they are in danger of being dropped from the program entirely in years to come.
Las Vegas, Buffalo, Tampa and Louisville, Ky., were among the 11 facing future elimination. Officials in many of those cities voiced hope that even with the new hurdles, they could persuade the agency to keep the money flowing.
“Now it’s competitive,” said Nevada state Homeland Security Director Giles Vanderhoof, whose state’s casinos attract large numbers of tourists. “If they really run this as a competition, I think we’ll come out OK.”
Officials in Louisville said they would try to prove that they should remain in the program to keep improving their emergency communications system. The city received a $5 million grant last year.
Agency responds to waste allegations
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the changes show the agency is responding to past complaints about possible waste and misallocation of funds.
“We are taking a giant step forward in implementing this risk-based strategy,” Chertoff told reporters.
He added later that the grants were “not party favors to be distributed as widely as possible.”
Some cities are lumped together. Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., will be considered a single metropolitan area by the agency, as will Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, Texas. Cities in such areas will have to work together to apply for funding, which could lead to disagreements about how to spend the funds.
Urban vs. rural
Other grants distributed by the Homeland Security Department have pitted highly populated areas against rural regions, and been criticized for provided more money per capita to some sparsely populated states.
Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the Bush administration is moving toward risk-based funding because Congress has still not moved to do so.
“Homeland Security funding should be threat-based and risk-based, and it still has not been decided in the Congress, so this is a way of doing the right thing and sending a clear signal to Congress that this is the way it should be done,” said King, R-N.Y.
In a similar move, Homeland Security officials said the agency will distribute the majority of a separate, $550 million grant program for state and local authorities based on risk.
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