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In wake of Brussels attack, House members want transit grant program bolstered
By Steve Bittenbender
In response to last week’s terrorist attack in Brussels, 66 members of the U.S. House of Representatives called on their Congressional colleagues to budge more money for a grant program aimed bolstering security for transit agencies across the country.
Specifically, the House members want the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee to set aside $105 million for the Fiscal Year 2017 Transit Security Grant Program. That would mark a $20 million increase from what President Obama proposed in his budget, and a nearly identical amount increase from previous budgets.
TSGP is a competitive grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that lets eligible public transit agencies apply for funds to help them secure their operations in a number of ways. Transit agencies can apply for funding a variety of reasons, including to expand training opportunities, to bolster surveillance capabilities or to protect infrastructure from attacks.
The members requesting the additional funding sent a letter to Rep. John Carter, the subcommittee chair, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the ranking Democrat, and added they oppose any plan that would lump TSGP with other homeland security grant programs.
“(R)equiring mass transit security needs to be pitted against other homeland security challenges could mean mass transit security is not properly funded,” the Congress members wrote.
The Maelbeek Metro station in Brussels was one of two targets for ISIS-backed terrorists on March 22. An hour after an attack on the city’s airport, another blast rocked the transit station, killing 15 and injuring 55. Combined, bombs at both locations killed 35.
Those requesting the additional funding said that transit stations in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable, and that an attack similar to what occurred in Brussels last week, London in 2005 or Madrid in 2004, would be devastating. The impact would not just be in terms of human casualties but in economic damage as well as the transit systems are a vital resource for communities to transport workers, students and tourists on a daily basis.
“From BART to Metro and everywhere in between, funds spent now to protect mass transit from terrorists could save a much larger future cost in terms of lives, physical damage, and economic harm,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, whose California district includes the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
In 2014, more than 10.7 billion passengers rode the nation’s local and regional mass transit systems, including bus, rail and ferry systems. Unlike airports or government buildings, the entrances to these systems are open as passengers are not screened.
“The special challenges in securing mass transit systems and the potential disaster that could occur from an attack mean we have to be extra cognizant of providing the necessary resources for this transportation sector,” the letter stated.
FEMA awarded $87 million in TSGP funding to 34 transit authorities for Fiscal Year 2015, with awards ranging from $44,000 to $22.3 million. The same amount is currently available for agencies for this fiscal year, and FEMA is accepting applications until April 25. Recipients have 36 months from the date of award to utilize the funding.
A copy of the letter can be found at: swalwell.house.gov/sites/swalwell.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Transit%20Security%20Grant%20Program%20FY%202017.pdf