U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) voted in favor of H.R. 1191, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.
The legislation would prevent volunteer fire departments and other emergency service providers from being required to provide healthcare coverage to their volunteers.
Over 780,000 volunteer firefighters could be impacted by these rules per the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, out of the 835 registered fire departments in California, nearly 58.6 percent are either partially or completely staffed by volunteers; in many states, this is the case for up to 98.3 percent of stations.
The bill guarantees that volunteer firefighters and other volunteer emergency personnel would not be counted as “employees” under the Internal Revenue Code; if these volunteers were considered employee status, per the Affordable Care Act departments would be required to provide healthcare coverage which could potentially have costly implications.
“This bill is imperative to protecting many communities that rely on men and women who voluntarily give their time and talents to keep us safe,” said Denham. “Without this legislation, the ACA mandate could potentially lead numerous volunteer fire departments to close or significantly cut back on their emergency response activities.”
H.R. 1191 defines a “bona fide volunteer” as an employee of any government entity or tax-exempt charitable organization where pay is only in the form of reimbursement or a reasonable allowance for expenses incurred while volunteering, or reasonable benefits, including awards and small tokens.
The legislation ensures that the volunteer hours worked by qualified are not counted when determining full-time employees or full-time equivalents of a given employer for purposes of the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act.
“Volunteer fire departments play a vital role in California’s emergency response system,” said Denham.