Congress Considers Bill to Stop Diversion of 9-1-1 Fees

The 9-1-1 Fee Integrity Act would prevent states from diverting funds meant for 9-1-1 services, $1 billion of which has been lost since 2009

Since 2009, about $1 billion in 911 funding intended to bolster counties’ emergency response has been diverted by states into non-9-1-1 programs, according to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports.

While this issue has not been raised in Maryland, according to data collected by the FCC in 2018, at least five states— Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and West Virginia—reported diverting revenue collected from emergency service funds in 2016.

According to the National Association of Counties (NACo):

A fix may be on the horizon. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) has introduced The 911 Fee Integrity Act, legislation designed to prevent states from diverting 911 fees. The bill would require states to use the fees solely for 911 services.

“It is completely unacceptable that we have seen states diverting fees meant to make important and necessary improvements to emergency response systems,” Collins said. “Diverting these important fees puts lives in danger, especially in rural areas.”

In New York, 41 percent of all fees collected annually are diverted into the state general fund. The state collects more than $180 million each year through its monthly surcharge of $1.20 on cell phone bills. Last year, only $10 million of $185 million collected went to 911 call centers.

Once in the general fund, there are no restrictions on how the monies are spent. The state’s Public Safety Communications Surcharge (originally classified as the “911 surcharge”) sends $25 million to the state police.

“The diversion of 911 fees in New York has been going on for a decade or so,” said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties. “County officials have long complained it was wrong and subjected the state to federal penalty and loss of grants to the state. We have made incremental progress with the state but have a long way to go.”

Earlier this year, the county hosted Collins and FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to discuss the issue. Sheriff James Voutour pointed out how the diversion of the fees is impacting his county.

“In Niagara County and several other counties, the New York State Police have shut down their dispatch centers and rely on county centers for 100 percent of law enforcement dispatch,” said Sheriff Voutour. “The New York State Police do not pay any expenses for this service.”

The story is much the same in other New York counties. Residents in Monroe County, paid $2.7 million in 911 fees last year but the county only received 8 percent or $200,000 of that back in state grants.

In 2016, $122 million was generated in New Jersey for the 911 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund, in which an estimated $108 million was used for other purposes.

The diversion of 9-1-1 fees becomes particularly problematic as states move toward Next Generation 9-1-1, technology that will increase response times, location accuracy, and allow text, photo, and video data to be shared by callers to First Responders on their way to the emergency.

The Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) Across Maryland, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative that will help Maryland prepare for the deployment of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 system that our residents expect and deserve, convened last week in Annapolis.

The Commission will examine the strategic aspects of NG9-1-1 implementation in coordination with the existing efforts of the Emergency Number Systems Board (ENSB), with a particular emphasis on addressing areas outside of the statutory responsibilities of the ENSB. The Commission will study and make recommendations for the implementation, technology, funding, governance, and ongoing statewide development of NG9-1-1 to the Governor and Maryland General Assembly.

Because county governments are at the heart of 9-1-1 service delivery, MACo prepared and submitted to the Commission a Next Generation 9-1-1 White Paper. MACo hopes to continue to serve as a resource for additional information from county governments throughout the Commission’s deliberations.

MACo’s Legislative Committee voted at their September 12, 2018 meeting to adopt the Association’s four priorities for the 2019 Session. Updating state laws, and the 9-1-1 financing system, to provide the flexibility and resources needed for the transition to NG9-1-1, will again be a top priority for county governments.

Read the full article for more information.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Commission to Advance #NG911 Holds First Meeting

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Hogan Signs MACo’s 9-1-1 Initiative Bill

MACo NG9-1-1 White Paper

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