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Local Towns Need Not Brace For Impact Of Obamacare On Volunteer Firefighters

Concern has been raised for many employers who use temporary, seasonal, and even volunteer workers as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), looks to define who is considered a "full time employee" in 2015.

Under the law, PPACA requires large employers (employers who employ 50 or more full-time employees), to provide health insurance to those employees. Additionally, the law defines "full-time" as 30 or more hours per week. A consequence of this definition is that volunteer firefighters have been deemed by the IRS to be considered employees, since they receive W2's from the communities that they serve. This would mean that the towns must provide health insurance benefits to these volunteers that serve more than 30 hours per week at their local departments. Ultimately, the result to the town's budgets could be catastrophic. 

Recently, the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), made numerous comments regarding this determination to members of Congress and the Administration. Their concern is that if implemented as such, this new obligation to provide health insurance coverage to volunteer firefighters could cause Towns significant budgetary challenges, and force them to consider reducing or eliminating these services statewide. In a letter to the Internal Revenue Service on November 22, US Representative Lou Barletta stated, “I urge you to clarify that nominally compensated volunteer emergency responders are non-employees of the agencies they serve under the employer shared responsibility provision.”

As a result of a careful review of these comments and other analysis, the Department of the Treasury and the IRS are expected to release forthcoming final regulations that generally will not require volunteer hours of bona fide volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel at governmental agencies to be counted when determining an employer’s full-time equivalent employees. This news will come as a timely relief for many local towns, and the volunteer responder communities that serve them.