By Christopher anderson
WASHINGTON – State and local law enforcement officials are keeping a close watch on the federal budget, after the Justice Department said this month it cannot send any new grant money to states until Congress authorizes spending.
Police officials say the delay has not hurt them, yet, but it could affect programs and planning if it continues much longer.
“Could it? Yes, but not right at this time,” said George Luddington, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
“We’re going to continue as we’ve been doing,” he said. “The money we’re using right now is from last year. So we have money now.”
Luddington estimated that the state receives about $14 million in Justice Department grants, several of which are scheduled to run through December. He said this is usually the month when state officials plan for what funds for the next year, “but we can’t do that yet.”
But Luddington said he is confident Congress will step in.
“By the time Congress comes back, things should be put in motion,” he said. “We anticipate things will be taken care.”
Baltimore City and other local police departments also receive Justice Department grants that could be affected by the delay, but officials there say they should also be able to hold out, as long as a spending bill is passed to free up the grant funds.
“I don’t think Baltimore needs to sound the alarm, but we’re watching,” said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice.
Baltimore relies on its $4 million grants to buy equipment and to pay for additional prosecutors, which Mahoney credits for helping the city reduce crime.
“There are real people attached to these block grants. And I get a sense that the same thing is happening all around the country,” she said. “It supports every facet of our crime-fighting strategy.
“The delay means that the cities will have to pick up the cost of these additional positions, if the cities can,” Mahoney said.
Fiscal 2003 began on Oct. 1, but Congress had passed only two of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the fiscal 2003 budget before adjourning in November. It has passed a series of continuing resolutions to keep the government operating at fiscal 2002 budget levels in the meantime.
In a Dec. 2 letter to local agencies, Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels warned that until the Justice Department appropriations bill for fiscal 2003 is passed, the department “can only speculate on the availability of resources for the balance of the fiscal year.”
New spending on grants and other programs that send federal money to the states for law enforcement and emergency preparedness cannot occur until a new spending bill is passed, the letter said.
Congress is expected to take up the spending bills when it convenes again in January.