By AAMER MADHANI Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has signed on to give federal firefighters a wild boost in the next two fiscal years, a move that affects more than 16,000 firefighters and prepares so many of the West for a tough wildfire season .
Wage increases for federal firefighters were included in last year’s $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill, but were halted while Biden administration officials studied recruitment and retention data to decide where to deliver them.
The White House said the move, announced Tuesday, is intended to put federal agencies on track to continue working with stakeholders toward an up-to-date, competitive and equitable payment structure, along with a support system that “Many challenges that plagued our wildlife will be addressed. Firefighters’ workforce for decades.”
The law stipulates that the $ 600 million in the Infrastructure Bill to increase the compensation for firefighters in the wild should go to all those firefighters, provided they are “located within a certain geographic area in which it is difficult to become a federal firefighter. recruit or retain. “
The Biden administration has finally decided on an increase for all federal wildfires over the next two years, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity prior to the formal announcement. The official said the infrastructure bill provides enough money to provide over-the-line increases, but the administration wants to work with Congress to provide a long-term solution to firefighters’ salaries.
“I will do everything in my power, including working with Congress to ensure long-term funding, to make sure these heroes continue to earn the salaries – and dignity – they deserve,” Biden said in a statement. said.
The Infrastructure Act also authorized agencies to increase the base salary of federal wildlife firefighters by $ 20,000 per year or 50% of their current base salary, whichever is lower, by 2023. The firefighters will receive reimbursement for the increases, which date to October 2021 .
The National Federation of Federal Employees has urged the Biden administration to interpret the statute as broadly as possible as firefighters across the country are struggling to get over it.
Forest Service chief Randy Moore told a Senate subcommittee last month that his agency’s staff levels are at 90 percent overall, but as low as 50 percent in some areas, including Oregon, Washington state and California.
The issue of recruitment, retention and low pay for firefighters in the wild has been on Biden’s radar since early in his administration.
Last June, before the infrastructure bill was passed, the Democratic president signed an executive order that temporarily increases the payment for federal firefighters to ensure no one earns less than $ 15 an hour.
Biden said he was upset after learning that the initial compensation for federal firefighters was significantly lower than that at many local and state fire agencies. Paying for new federal firefighters typically started at $ 11 per hour to $ 14 per hour, and they were overtime-qualified.