Fitzpatrick: Volunteer Fire Depts. Shouldn’t get Burned by ACA

Dec 11, 2013
Fitzpatrick: Volunteer Fire Depts. Shouldn’t get Burned by ACA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-8) is following up on a letter sent to the Internal Revenue Service in early October asking for clarification about the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on local volunteer fire departments. After not hearing from the IRS for over two months, Fitzpatrick joined other lawmakers in introducing the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act [H.R. 3685] which would clarify the ruling about the status of volunteer fire companies under the ACA and exempt volunteer fire fighters from the ACA’s employer mandate.

“As it stands right now, volunteer fire departments are potentially considered employers, and their firefighters as paid employees – meaning, they’re subject to the same mandates and penalties found in the president’s healthcare law for businesses,” said Fitzpatrick. “This interpretation would be devastating to volunteer fire companies and our safety throughout Bucks and Montgomery County.”

“This is a concern I’ve been hearing from volunteer firefighters around the district for months, which is why I wrote a letter to IRS Acting Commissioner Werfel asking for a clarification,” continued Fitzpatrick. “As we approach the deadline I think they need clarity– this bill does that by ensuring the IRS cannot misinterpret Obamacare.”

Fitzpatrick’s letter highlighted concerns that currently the IRS treats all firefighters - volunteer or paid - as employees for federal tax purposes.  However, this status under the ACA could fall under the law’s ‘Shared Responsibility Provision’ and result fines for fire companies who don’t provide health insurance.

Over 97% of Pennsylvania’s fire departments – and 90% nationwide - are served by community volunteers.

“The administration has admitted there are flaws in the bill. Unfortunately, just because this may have been an oversight in a massive piece of legislation doesn’t mean it’s not the law,” continued Fitzpatrick. “The reality is that many non-profit emergency service organizations don’t have the means to resources to comply with this ill-advised requirement as it currently stands. We need to be supporting our first responders, not handcuffing them with red tape.”

“We are an all-volunteer fire company that is being penalized for our ability to attract and retain members to protect the community,” said Charles Rumble, President of the Plumsteadville Volunteer Fire Company. “There is no way that we - or our community that supports us - can bear that cost of offering insurance. We would be forced to shut down and our community forced to seek substantially more costly and diminished fire protection alternatives.”

"Local governments and volunteer fire/EMS agencies highlight everything that's right about our great nation - community members committed to the protection and well-being of their families, friends and neighbors. I applaud Congressman Fitzpatrick for working to ensure that these selfless volunteers - aren't unfairly penalized by the overreaching bureaucracy of groups within the federal government,” said David M. Sanko, Execitive Director of the PA State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS). “The IRS must provide clear guidance on exemptions for volunteers from this potentially costly unintended consequence of the ACA. This legislation from Congressman Fitzpatrick and others in the House does that in a commonsense, no-frills way."

The Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act is supported by the National Volunteer Fire Council and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.  Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate Tuesday by Senators Warner, Manchin, Collins, King and Toomey.

“Local volunteer fire departments don’t want to be in the middle of a political squabble, they just want to know the law and make sure they’re not hurt by it. We as lawmakers owe them that,” Fitzpatrick added.

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Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represents Pennsylvania’s 8th district which includes all of Bucks County as well as a portion of Montgomery County. He serves as the Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.