updated 3/16/2004 8:31:39 PM ET 2004-03-17T01:31:39

As cities lay off police officers and firefighters to balance their budgets, the Homeland Security Department on Monday announced a new effort to get federal money to local governments.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said a task force comprised of governors and municipal officials would take two months to recommend how best to get federal money into local hands. The group is headed by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Akron, Ohio, Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic.

“It is critical that the men and women on the front lines of the war against terror have the resources they need to do their jobs,” Ridge said. “By identifying best practices and determining ways to implement them across the country, the task force will put homeland security dollars into the hands of first responders more rapidly.”

The department has allocated $8 billion to states and localities. But municipal officials have complained that they are not receiving enough aid to pay for increased security costs.

Money where it's needed
The National League of Cities, whose members descended on Washington last week to press for more money, said that more than half the 345 municipalities surveyed reported that fiscal pressures were forcing them to them to raise fees, tap their reserve funds or lay off employees, including police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

“Our big concerns have been that we have adequate and continuing funding and that the money actually get down to the first responders,” said Michael Reinemer, a spokesman for the cities’ group. “We’re encouraged that the Department of Homeland Security is moving on this problem.”

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry accused the Bush administration Monday of failing to fund first responders.

“When it comes to protecting America from terrorism, this administration is big on bluster and short on action,” Kerry told the 263,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed the Massachusetts senator.

Task force members include Govs. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho and Mark Warner of Virginia; Washington Mayor Anthony Williams; Yuma County, Ariz., Sheriff Ralph Ogden; and Decatur, Ga., City Manager Peggy Merriss.

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