Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Actby Representative Lou Barletta
Posted on 2014-01-08
BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members
may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks
and include extraneous materials on the topic of my Special Order.
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Pennsylvania? There was no objection.
Mr. BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, my colleagues in the House and I are here today to talk about another unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act. We understand there is little appetite in this body to provide fixes to a flawed law. However, we believe that an unexpected and previously undetected problem with the law represents special and urgent circumstances.
This really took me by surprise. The fact that the Affordable Care Act could force volunteer fire companies to provide health insurance to their volunteers or pay a fine would burden them with unbearable costs and possibly cause them to reduce the number of volunteers they have or shut their doors altogether.
Simply put, this is a public safety issue. This is a problem today because the Internal Revenue Service currently treats volunteer firefighters as employees for Federal tax purposes. Under the Affordable Care Act, if they have 50 or more employees and they work 30 hours a week, then the employers have to provide health insurance or pay a fine.
Here is a key point that I want to make. Some fire companies may hear about this and immediately think: well, we only have 25 volunteers so we are safe, we don't have 50. Well, that may not necessarily be the case. Some fire companies are considered part of their local government. That could mean that if you take the number of firefighters paid and unpaid now considered employees by the IRS and add them to the number of other public employees, such as highway workers, police, code enforcement officers, health officers, clerical workers, you can easily reach 50, even in a small town.
This would be a very big deal in my home State of Pennsylvania. Ninety-seven percent of our fire companies are either completely or mostly volunteers. Nationally, 91.7 percent of fire companies use at least some volunteers and 86.2 percent depend on all or mostly volunteers. Those numbers come from the 2012 National Fire Department Census conducted by the United States Fire Administration.
So I wrote a letter to the IRS, just like many of my colleagues here, and asked them for clarification. To this point, as of this afternoon, we have gotten no reply from the Internal Revenue Service. They have said that they are ``reviewing'' it.
This should be very easy to clear up for the IRS. Just say that volunteer firefighters are just that--volunteers. But we are still waiting.
Let's be clear about this. This wrinkle in the Affordable Care Act will not provide health care to the uninsured; it will only shut down fire companies and cause a severe threat to public safety.
That is why I have introduced H.R. 3685, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. The bill will specifically exempt volunteer firefighters and volunteers providing emergency medical services from the employer mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act.
I was happy to learn that there is a bipartisan Senate bill that is a companion to mine. I hope that we can see bipartisan support for this in both the House and in the Senate and that we can get through this quickly so that the President can sign it.
Mr. Speaker, this problem with the Affordable Care Act represents a clear and present danger to public safety.
I would like to invite my colleagues to offer their thoughts about this problem and how it relates to their own districts.
I would like to yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Fitzpatrick).