Our law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services and other first responders put their lives on the line to protect Iowans every single day.
And as any one of these brave men and women will tell you, protecting our communities is not easy. It requires a lot of training, skills and tools because of the wide variety of situations they need to respond to.
Whether it’s keeping our communities and streets safe or fighting off a global pandemic, the folks Iowa has running toward danger face all sorts of challenges, and I’m committed to having their backs since they are always protecting ours.
Last week, I had the chance to tour a virtual simulator at the West Des Moines Police Department that law enforcement personnel from across Iowa use to train officers on how to respond and de-escalate different scenarios they may encounter in the field.
As someone who has voted for increased funding for grants to local law enforcement every year I’ve been in Congress — funding that helps address everything from community violence to the opioid crisis — I know the critical role federal funds can play in ensuring our local police departments and first responders always have what they need to be well trained and well equipped.
Last year, the Iowa Department of Justice received more than $1.7 million in funding grants that help our judicial system investigate and prosecute cases of sexual assault and violence. This funding also supports the Domestic Abuse Response Team, which assists women and children across our state. I fought hard in Congress to increase this funding, and I’m glad to see this funding making its way back to Iowa where it helps our neighbors and communities.
Seeing cutting-edge equipment and victim assistance services like these implemented locally are examples of what that I’ve been telling my colleagues in Congress for months: we can’t help officers do their jobs better without resources.
My record in Congress shows I don’t support defunding budgets that ensure our first responders are as prepared as possible to keep our communities safe.
Since my very first day serving you in Congress, I’ve worked to support our law enforcement officers and other first responders, and I am continuing that work. This year, my Democratic colleagues in the House have proposed increasing the budget for the U.S. Department of Justice — which supports local police departments with best practices, grants and critical training programs — by nearly 8%. That measure was approved at the committee level last week, and I’m looking forward to voting on it soon.
I also introduced the Volunteer First Responder Housing Act this month, which will give volunteer firefighters and other first responders access to federal housing programs in order to help Iowa’s volunteer first responders recruit and retain more volunteers.
Volunteer fire departments in Iowa and throughout the country are struggling to recruit the next generation of volunteers, especially in smaller communities, where one of every three firefighters is over the age of 50.
And since more than 92% of Iowa’s fire departments and 90% of our firefighters are volunteers, I know how critical it will be to find more volunteers in the years to come.
We need to do everything we can to provide affordable housing to the brave men and women who step up in our communities so we can recruit the next generation of volunteers.
President Joe Biden recently signed another piece of legislation into law that I wrote to help our first responders who have been treating medical emergencies out in the community, rather than in a hospital, due to COVID-19.
The bipartisan legislation that I got signed into law ensures first responders who provide medical treatment at the scene of an accident get reimbursed for their services.
As hard as it might be to believe, prior to my bill Medicare did not provide reimbursement for supplies or services that our first responders provided if they treated someone on location but didn’t take them to the hospital. Now our EMS and first responders can treat someone on site, ensuring Iowans don’t have to pay for hospital treatments if our trained EMS and first responders can care for them right then and there.
This was a big victory, especially for rural areas where transportation to a hospital can be expensive, and I’m proud to have secured this win for our first responders earlier this year.
I am so grateful for everything our law enforcement officials, firefighters, EMS and all first responders have done for Iowa’s communities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. These folks have literally put their lives on the line to protect us, and they deserve access to the resources they need to continue keeping our communities, our children and our state safe.
Rep. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines represents Iowa’s Third Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She can be reached at 202-225-5476.