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Begich Protects Volunteer Firefighters from Unfair ACA Regulations

Treasury Department Relents Under Bipartisan Pressure

U.S. Senator Mark Begich and a bipartisan group of senators announced their successful efforts today to exempt volunteer fire departments from being required to count their volunteers as full-time employees and thus become responsible for paying for volunteer health care under provisions in the Affordable Care Act.   In response to the senators’ request, the Treasury Department confirmed that in their forthcoming regulations, volunteer firefighters and emergency responders will not be counted when determining an organization’s number of full-time employees—a move that would have gutted the ranks of emergency first responders across the country.

“Alaskans rely upon volunteer responders to save lives and prevent tragedy every day, often in remote location and in harsh conditions,” said Sen. Begich.  “These local heroes are dedicated to keeping their communities safe.  It’s not right to hamstring these community-funded, volunteer organizations by requiring them consider their volunteers full-time employees for the sake of tax paperwork.”

Though Alaska volunteer firefighters are nominally paid, volunteers often receive no compensation and often have other full-time employment.   Many of Alaska’s community emergency response organizations do not have the resources to provide pay or benefits to volunteers,  nor do most volunteer first responders expect to receive compensation or health coverage as a result of their volunteer public service.

There are approximately 200 fire departments in Alaska that are comprised of mostly volunteers or all volunteers.  Nationwide, approximately 750,000 volunteer firefighters serve in 20,000 all-volunteer and 5,000 combination career-volunteer fire departments throughout the United States.

“These first responder organizations in Alaska and throughout the country need to know that they have the necessary resources to keep offering their services ," said Begich. "The success of this effort to make sure volunteer firefighters are not unfairly burdened shows that both sides can come together on common sense policy to compromise and get things done. Today’s news means that these brave men and women who protect our communities every day can focus on their most important role—saving lives."

Sen. Begich was among a bipartisan group of senators including Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Angus King (I-ME), who Susan Collins (R-ME) who wrote a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department in December requesting that volunteer emergency service workers not be counted as full-time equivalent employees for purposes of health care coverage.   In a response to the letter the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service agreed today to exempt volunteer emergency responders from the health care mandate. 

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