More cities across the country are considered at high risk of a terrorist attack, according to a new list of funding priorities from the Homeland Security Department.
The department made 45 cities or regions eligible for a competitive counterterrorism grant program last year. This year, the list has been expanded to 60 areas that can apply for the nearly $782 million available, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The urban area grants are one of the department’s most popular — and most intensely debated — programs. The department divides the regions at highest risk of a terrorist attack into two tiers. The seven highest-risk areas — including Los Angeles, New York and Washington — will be competing for about $430 million this year. The remaining 53 will compete for about $352 million. The department plans to release the list Friday.
The list has grown and shrunk in recent years, based on decisions the department says are not the result of specific threats or concerns but that reflect an overall analysis of threat data.
Some regions on the list in the past were dropped more recently. For instance, Albany, N.Y., was put back on the list this year after being dropped in 2003.
Other regions added to the list this year are: Rochester, N.Y.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Austin and Round Rock, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk, Conn.; the Hartford, Conn., region; Louisville and Jefferson County in Kentucky and an adjoining area in Indiana; Nashville, Davidson County and Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Richmond, Va.; Riverside, San Bernardino and Ontario, Calif.; Salt Lake City; San Juan, Caguas and Guaynabo, Puerto Rico; and Toledo, Ohio.
Emotional list, spending concerns
Every year, the list pleases and angers elected officials based on which cities are added or dropped. But this year, Congress insisted that the department include more cities.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said he is thrilled that cities from his state will receive counterterrorism money. Last year, there were no cities from his state on the urban area list.
Lieberman’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is also pleased with the department’s funding decisions, even though only a small area in Mississippi, near Memphis, is included.
But Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., criticized the department for spreading the money widely, even though she voted for the legislation that required the department to do so.
“Strict criteria should be implemented to ensure that only high-threat cities” get money from the program, Lowey said.
Risks and dollars
Mayors of the biggest U.S. cities have long claimed the list should be pared down to funnel more dollars to those places at greatest risk; and mayors of mid-sized cities insist terrorists don’t ignore them, and neither should the government.
Also Friday, the department is expected to announce transit and port security grants. New York and New Jersey will receive $43 million in port security grants, the highest of any port area across the country.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach port will get $36 million, and Houston and Galveston, Texas will get about $31 million. Connecticut, New York and New Jersey will get more than $150 million for transit security, while Washington will get about $39 million.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the funding to New York for port and transit has increased significantly in recent years, an indication the government is listening to lawmakers’ concerns.
“Last year was the best year by far we ever had for funding, and now we’re going higher,” King said. “This is a real recognition by the department that New York is clearly the best when it comes to providing homeland security protection at the local, state and city level.”
Bush to request aid
On Monday, President Bush is expected to ask, as part of his final budget request, for a total of $2.2 billion to help states and cities protect against terrorist attacks.
Bush will also ask for more than $12 billion for border security and immigration enforcement, a 19 percent increase over what Congress appropriated for these programs in 2008. This money would go toward building a fence along the southwest border and enforcing immigration laws, such as deporting illegal immigrants and holding businesses accountable for hiring people who are in the country illegally.
Illegal immigration has been a hot topic in both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. Last year Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.