On June 12, Representatives John Larson (D-CT) and David Reichert (R-WA) introduced the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (H.R. 2752), along with a bi-partisan group of 26 original co-sponsors. The bill exempts property tax benefits and up to $600 per year of other incentives from being subject to federal income taxation.
“On behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) I’d like to thank Representatives Larson, Reichert, and all of the original co-sponsors for introducing this critical legislation to help local volunteer emergency services agencies recruit and retain personnel,” said NVFC Chairman Kevin D. Quinn. “On average, a volunteer firefighter in the United States donates services worth more than $18,000 annually to the communities that they serve. Clarifying that minor incentives that volunteers receive as a reward for their service are not taxable will give communities flexibility to provide benefits without having to worry about being audited by the IRS.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) there are 786,150 volunteer firefighters serving in 27,575 fire departments across the country, including 19,807 fire departments staffed by volunteers only. Unfortunately, fire and EMS agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the next generation of volunteers. Over the past six years the number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has declined by 41,000 or about five percent. At the same time, in small communities that are almost exclusively protected by volunteers, more than 30 percent of firefighters are 50 years of age or older, up from just 18 percent in 2000.
In order to bolster recruitment and retention many fire and EMS agencies now provide non-monetary gifts, reductions in property taxes or other fees, per-call payments, stipends, and/or retirement benefits. Volunteer benefits are typically small but demonstrate community support, which builds morale. Taxation of volunteer benefits reduces their incentive value and is an administrative burden on agencies.
Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Senate version of the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (S. 609) in February. You can use the NVFC’s Engage service to contact your U.S. Senators and Representative to ask them to support H.R. 2752/S. 609.