By: Bethany Patterson and Henry Rademacher
Even though diverting 911 fees from public safety networks is illegal, states are still using the money for unrelated and inappropriate purposes.
And House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden and Congressman Bob Latta, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader, want to do something about this. The two sent a letter to House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., writing that the “amount of 9-1-1 funds that have been diverted for nearly a decade is troubling.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent report on states’ use of 911 fees, over $187,000,000 — approximately 7 percent of all 911 fees collected — was diverted by Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and West Virginia in 2018. Rhode Island reported that it deposits 90% of 911 fees into the state’s general fund.
These numbers add up. Since 2004, New Jersey has diverted nearly $2 billion off 911 fees. One analysis found that the state only used 15 percent of the fees collected since 2004 to maintain and update the 911 system.
“Diverting 9-1-1 fees may result in understaffed calling centers, training issues, longer wait times during an emergency, and may inhibit the 9-1-1 call centers to support digital age technologies,” Congressmen Walden and Latta wrote. “Governments diverting funds for other purposes undermines public confidence and the overall integrity of the 9-1-1 system.”
FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has consistently warned states against diverting these 911 fees. Last September, he wrote a letter to Montana Governor Steve Bullock on his state’s alleged misuse of 911 funds. The state had reportedly diverted $2 million of these funds for various purposes, including to help “right-size” the number of professors in the Montana University System.
In a recent speech at the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Emergency Number Association, Commissioner O’Rielly identified New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island as “habitual and intentional” 911 fee diverters.
He said that while the FCC will monitor states’ diversions of these funds, “it is going to be very hard to change the practices of these three states absent some new tools enacted by Congress or the Commission.”
With Congressmen Walden and Latta sounding the alarm on this issue and urging Chairman Pallone to bring legislation before the committee, a solution to this problem may be found soon.
Photo credit: Tomás Del Coro (Flickr)