IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - Firefighters who protect our national forests stand the risk of their wages being cut back.
Congress introduced temporary pay supplements in 2021 with Bipartisan support. But, those funds are set to expire Sept. 30, with no new bill in place.
One firefighter's spouse tells us as a result, many wildland firefighters will lose up to 50% of their monthly pay. Lacey Keller-Smith says many wildland firefighters feel like they're backed up against a fiscal cliff.
"In many cases, this pay supplement is the difference between sleeping in their cars and renting a place to live," Keller-Smith said. "It's the difference between paying a mortgage and not paying a mortgage."
Keller-Smith tells us many of her husband's co-workers are considering dropping their health insurance coverage or even selling their homes if the funding were the expire.
The National Federation of Federal Employees warns that up to 50% of federal wildland firefighters could resign once that happens.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, with the support from representatives from Wyoming, Montana and other states has introduced a Bipartisan bill to make the pay incentive permanent.
“Wildland firefighters in Arizona and across the country risk their lives to keep our communities safe. Recognizing their sacrifice and hard work, I secured fair pay in my bipartisan infrastructure law for wildland firefighters, and now I’m ensuring this pay is permanent,” Senator Sinema said.
Idaho has seen its fair share of fires in the past. Last year's Moose fire burned more than 130,000 acres of national forest land. This year, it was the Hayden fire.
Each year, fire season stretches resources. Keller-Smith is concerned that no members of the Idaho congressional delegation have signed on to co-sponsor the bill.
"Congress has had two years to do something about this. The pay supplement was always intended to be temporary. It was intended to be a band aid to prevent this from happening Two years ago," Keller-Smith said. "This is not a new problem. This problem is several years old. And Congress has failed to act for two years."
The bill is not without Idaho support. According to CNN, Congressman Mike Simpson is calling for the GOP-led House Natural Resources Committee to make the pay increases permanent.
“This is something that they deserve and need, but it’s wildfire season in the West. You’re gonna reduce it in the middle of fire season. Are you kidding me?” Simpson told CNN. “We need our Resources Committee to get their a**es busy – sorry, that’s sort of a bad term – to get busy and take this issue up and get the authorization, so that hopefully when we go into negotiations with the Senate on the Interior bill, we can include that increase in pay.”
But whether the bill is passed before the pay increase expires, is still up in the air.