U.S. agency makes changes in anti-terror grants

/ Source: The Associated Press

Four U.S. cities will get a fresh infusion of federal anti-terrorism grant money, and four others will be cut off from such grants, under a new government list of urban areas considered at serious risk of attacks and eligible to share $747 million.

The list obtained Thursday by The Associated Press shows the four newly eligible cities are El Paso, Texas; Norfolk, Virginia; Providence, Rhode Island; and Tucson, Arizona.

The cities that were cut from the list of 45 metropolitan areas are Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Louisville, Kentucky; and Omaha, Nebraska.

The Homeland Security Department has come under intense scrutiny for its decisions in the Urban Area Security Initiative, or UASI, which is the only pool of federal money designed to go to localities based solely on their risk of terror attacks.

Officials in New York and several other major cities were furious last year when the agency announced major cuts to their funding while sending millions of dollars to places like Omaha and Louisville, which are generally considered to face less risk of terrorism.

The agency may officially announce the decision as early as Friday, though the designations do not yet come with fixed dollar amounts. Those are expected later this year, most likely in May, after the government has reviewed the cities' grant applications.

Under the program, DHS awards money not just to an individual city, but to the entire metropolitan area.

New York, New Jersey are one
This year, DHS chose to lump together New York City and northern New Jersey into a single area. Last year, the agency kept them separate, giving money directly to Jersey City and Newark, N.J.

While the agency did cut four cities from the list, it spared several others that were warned in 2005 that they might be cut off. Those spared cities were Las Vegas, Nev.; Buffalo, N.Y.;  Oklahoma City, Okla.; Tampa, Fla.; San Diego, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Phoenix, Ariz.

The UASI list also does not include a smaller, separate pot of grant money to protect urban infrastructure, like public transit systems. An announcement on that money is expected next week.

The actual UASI payments vary widely from place to place, and even year to year. In the 2005 budget year, for example, Los Angeles received $65 million, while Jacksonville, Florida got $6.9 million.

Cities howled in protest after cuts
Since the Sept. 11 attacks cities like New York and Washington have received the lion's share of the UASI money, but city officials protested furiously last May when funding for each was cut by 40 percent.

The program was launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has since been the focus of yearly wrangling between the Bush administration and some in Congress who want a larger share of federal largesse to be distributed based solely on risk.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Thursday he was concerned New York might be put at a disadvantage by having to split its share of funding with northern New Jersey.

"This could spell trouble. If they give out one pot of money to two areas, we cannot let that translate into fewer dollars," Schumer said.

The new Democratic majority in Congress, sworn in Thursday, has pledged to revise grant spending to distribute billions of federal anti-terror grants based on risk. The House is expected to take up such legislation next week as part of a package based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.