Officials: States stealing 911 funds to fill budget gaps
The FCC is seeking to prevent states from using the funds to pay for other government services
By EMS1 Staff
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission said states are using the 911 fees collected from the public to fill budget gaps for other services.
ARS Technica reported that FCC commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Jessica Rosenworcel are attempting to stop states from using 911 funds to pay for other services, a practice they say has been occurring for almost 15 years.
"On our individual phone bills, a line item is typically included for 911 service," the commissioners wrote in an opinion piece. “It's a relatively small fee that states and localities charge to support emergency calling services. But too many states are stealing these funds and using them for other purposes, like filling budget gaps, purchasing vehicles or worse."
The FCC’s report on 2016 911 fees said that a combined total of $128.9 million was diverted from 911 funds in New Mexico, Rhode Island, Illinois, New Jersey and West Virginia.
"Another seven (states) didn't even bother to respond to our inquiry to examine their diversion practices,” the commissioners wrote. "None of this is acceptable."
Officials said that the state of New York was included in the states that did not submit data to the FCC, but "sufficient public record information exists to support a finding that New York diverted funds for non-public safety uses," according to the report.
"After almost 15 years of working on the problem, we are no closer to resolving it," O’Reilly said in a 2017 blog post. "In addition to Commission options, Congress has full ability to correct diverting states' practices either by directly applying existing law or by exerting necessary leverage via its extensive grants and funding regimes.”
The commissioners said the diversion of the fees “can be tragic.”
"It can lead to understaffed calling centers, longer wait times in an emergency, and sluggish dispatch for public safety personnel,” they wrote. “It also will slow the ability of 911 call centers to update their systems to support digital age technologies."
O’Reilly and Rosenworcel urged the government to ensure that public safety programs are not available to states that divert 911 funds.
"The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which are jointly running the program, are prohibited by law from making these funds available to jurisdictions that have been diverting 911 fees," they wrote. "This can serve as a template for any other funds provided at the federal level, including in new infrastructure legislation."
"We also may need to examine more aggressive actions at the FCC's disposal," the commissioners added.