Washington – President Joe Biden has approved a big raise for federal wildland firefighters for the next two fiscal years, a move that affects more than 16,000 firefighters and comes as the West prepares for a tough fire season in forest.
Salary increases for federal firefighters were included in last year’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, but they were delayed as federal agencies studied recruitment and retention data to decide where to deliver them. .
The White House said the decision announced Tuesday was intended to put “federal agencies on a path to continue working with stakeholders toward an updated, competitive, and equitable compensation structure and support system that will address the many challenges that have plagued our wilderness. firefighters for decades.
The legislation stated that the $600 million infrastructure bill to increase wildland firefighter pay should go to all such firefighters provided they are “located in a specified geographic area that is difficult to recruit from.” or retain a federal forest firefighter”.
The Biden administration has finally decided on a raise for all federal forest firefighters over the next two years, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement. The official said the infrastructure bill offers enough money to provide the raises, but the administration is seeking to work with Congress to provide a long-term solution to firefighter pay.
“I will do everything in my power, including working with Congress to secure long-term funding, to ensure these heroes continue to earn the paychecks — and the dignity — they deserve.” , Biden said in a statement.
The Infrastructure Act also authorized agencies to raise the base salary of federal firefighters by $20,000 per year or 50% of their current base salary, whichever is lower, through 2023. Firefighters will receive an arrears of salary for raises, dating from October 2021.
The National Federation of Federal Employees union had urged the Biden administration to interpret the law as broadly as possible as firefighters across the country struggled to make ends meet.
Forest Service Chief Randy Moore told a Senate subcommittee last month that his agency’s workforce was 90% overall, but as low as 50% in some areas, including Oregon, Washington State and California.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, DN.M., was among a group of lawmakers who had pushed the administration to fix the payroll issue, fearing it could further exacerbate staffing shortages as the West enters the hot summer months. Heinrich called the two-year salary fix “progress” but said more needed to be done. New Mexico suffered the largest wildfire on record this year.
“These men and women are fighting historic fires in New Mexico and are on the front lines of the climate crisis across the West,” Heinrich said in a Twitter post. “It’s admirable, arduous and hard work for their families.”
The issue of recruitment, retention and low salaries for wildland firefighters had been on Biden’s radar since the start of his administration.
Last June, before the infrastructure bill passed, the Democratic president signed an executive order temporarily increasing the pay of federal firefighters to ensure no one earned less than $15 an hour.
Biden said he was appalled after learning that the starting salary for federal firefighters was significantly lower than many local and state fire agencies. Pay for new federal firefighters typically started between $11 an hour and $14 an hour, and they were eligible for overtime.