"I'm not asking for a handout, I'm asking for a partnership," Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson told Undersecretary of Homeland Security Michael Brown at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Brown said the federal government does not want to break up partnerships it has forged over the years with state governments through agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which handles natural disasters.
However, he said Congress recently ordered 80 percent of the funding for homeland security projects to go to first responders in cities and counties, and limited to 20 percent the amount state governments can keep.
Mayors had complained that states were skimming federal money for prevention, while they need it to equip and train police and firefighters who treat casualties.
Abramson said that in the first round of homeland security funding, Kentucky got $9 million and only $200,000 went to his city.
"We have 20 percent of the state's population and yet we got just 2 percent of the money. You don't need to tell me that's wrong," Abramson told his fellow mayors on Saturday.
Brown said the Department of Homeland Security has given $4.4 billion to states and cities for homeland security since it was formed in March. He said the department is still trying to find ways to bring together 22 government agencies and their 204,000 employees to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.
Brown had to listen to a range of complaints from some of the 225 mayors attending the conference.
Scott King, mayor of Gary, Ind., told Brown that when his city inquired about equipment to deal with terrorism, the city got a shipment of gas masks with defective filters that would keep a first responder alive for only six minutes.
Mayor Carlos Mendez Martinez of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, said the federal government has virtually ignored its territories as a possible source of terrorism.
"I keep saying your back door is open. If we don't work with Puerto Rico, what security do we really have?" he asked Brown.
Brown said the Department of Homeland Security is still trying to determine where the nation is vulnerable.
"We are all in this together. We need you to partner with us," he told the mayors.
Mayor Doug Echols of Rock Hill, S.C., said small communities need as much help as the big cities and are also being ignored.
"A threat anywhere in America is a threat everywhere in America," he said.
By Steven K. Paulson