House passes bill to help responders prepare for emergencies

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would let certain homeland security grants be spent on first responders to prepare for medical emergencies.

The Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act, also known as H.R. 1791, passed 391-2 under suspension of the rules with Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) casting the only two votes against the bill. The bill would allow funding for the State Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Area Security Initiative to be spent on medical preparedness activities and equipment.

The Urban Area Security Initiative grants provide money to high-threat metropolitan areas while the State Homeland Security Grant Program provides states with funding to implement strategies to counter acts of terrorism and other mass casualty events.

While the Department of Homeland Security said recipients of the grants can use funds for medical preparedness, supporters of H.R. 1791 said the legislation is needed to clarify that local, state and tribal governments may legally spend the money on medical emergency preparedness in case of a biological or chemical attack.

If such an attack were to occur, the funds could be used to develop and maintain pharmaceutical stockpiles such as medical diagnostics and kits.

The House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill by voice vote in October. The panel added a provision requiring the kits and diagnostics to be used to protect first responders and their families, immediate victims and vulnerable populations such as individuals with disabilities, the elderly and children.