As the country continues to battle devastating wildfires, President Joe Biden’s administration is urging Congress to prioritize the protection of firefighter pay. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has written a letter to Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, requesting additional funding for various urgent needs, including support for wildland firefighters.
Currently, firefighters are benefiting from a temporary pay increase authorized by Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure legislation. This legislation ensures pay raises for firefighters working in areas with recruitment and retention challenges. The aim is to increase their annual salaries by up to $20,000 or by 50%, whichever is lower.
Unfortunately, this funding is set to expire by the end of the fiscal year, putting more than 20,000 firefighters at risk of significant wage reductions by October. Estimates suggest that without continued funding, some firefighters could face wages as low as $15 an hour.
To prevent this potential pay cut and its repercussions, the administration is advocating for a $60 million funding increase for the Agriculture and Interior Departments specifically allocated for firefighter pay raises. They are also requesting $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to replenish its disaster relief fund.
With an unprecedented summer marked by deadly wildfires and extreme weather events, it is crucial to sustain firefighting efforts and support the well-being of firefighters. Recent wildfires in states like Hawaii and Texas have resulted in loss of life and severe property damage. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events and record-breaking heat only heightens concerns of more fires in the future.
Recognizing the urgency of the situation, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act. The goal of this legislation is to make the pay increases for firefighters permanent, ensuring that federal firefighters in the National Forest Service are not driven to mass departures. The support for this act underscores the vital role firefighters play in protecting communities and emphasizes the need for fair compensation.
Representative Josh Harder of California, the legislator behind the act, emphasizes the importance of providing a livable wage and comprehensive support to wildland firefighters. As wildfire season persists and the threat of more devastating fires looms, it remains paramount to prioritize the well-being and financial security of these courageous individuals.