States Must Stop Diverting 9-1-1 Fees | Citizens Against Government Waste

States Must Stop Diverting 9-1-1 Fees

The WasteWatcher

The National Emergency Number Association estimates that 240 million 9-1-1 calls are made each year, with more than 80 percent of those calls originating from wireless devices in some areas of the country.  The 9-1-1 emergency systems, including fire and rescue operations, are funded, in part, through fees imposed on consumer telephone bills.  Unfortunately, over the years, numerous states have been raiding these funds for other purposes, including closing budget gaps and bolstering their rainy day funds.

Since 2009, Congress has required states and territories to file annual reports with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on how they have utilized the 9-1-1 fees they have collected.  The Eighth Annual Report on State Collection and Distribution of 911 and Enhanced 911 Fees and Charges released on December 30, 2016, found that several states and one territory, including Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, and Puerto Rico engaged in fee diversion to the tune of $220.3 million.  This is approximately 8.4 percent of the total funds collected nationwide.  Among the biggest culprits in fee diversions, New York diverted 42 percent of the funds collected, Rhode Island diverted 68.4 percent, and New Jersey diverted a whopping 89.9 percent from the 9-1-1 fees collected. 

States did not fare much better in the FCC’s December 28, 2017 report.  According to that report, five states – Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia – diverted or transferred 9-1-1 fees amounting to $128,909,169, or approximately 5 percent of the total amount collected.  However, on August 21, 2018, the FCC acknowledged that Illinois' 2016 report "contained a typographical error and had not in fact diverted funding that year" or in 2017.  Guam, Montana, Missouri, New York, Northern Mariana Islands, Oklahoma, and Puerto Rico did not submit reports, leaving a gap in the information used to generate the annual report, although the FCC was able to ascertain through public records that New York had diverted funds for non-public safety uses.

This ongoing fee diversion by states is mind boggling when one considers the critical nature of the 9-1-1 emergency systems.  The 9-1-1 fees are not intended and should not be used for any other purpose than that with which they were intended.  While the FCC has put states and territories on notice about their obligation to provide data on 9-1-1 fee collections, it is more important that these fee diversions stop.  On July 19, 2018, H.R. 6424, the bipartisan 9-1-1 Fee Integrity Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives.  The bill would prevent states from diverting fees collected from consumers on their phone bills. 

The diversion of 9-1-1 fees is not only a waste of the taxpayer’s money, it also poses a significant threat to public safety.  The time has come to end this outrageous practice and use the money solely for its intended purposes.

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