PROTECTING VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS AND EMERGENCY RESPONDERS ACT; Congressional Record Vol. 160, No. 4
(House of Representatives - January 08, 2014)

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[Pages H65-H68]
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     PROTECTING VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS AND EMERGENCY RESPONDERS ACT

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of 
January 3, 2013, the Chair recognizes the gentleman from Pennsylvania 
(Mr. Barletta) for 30 minutes.


                             General Leave

  Mr. 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).
  Mr. FITZPATRICK. I thank my friend from Pennsylvania, Mr.

[[Page H66]]

Barletta, for organizing this Special Order tonight.
  I have to say that I never assumed it would be easy to get an answer 
quickly from a massive bureaucracy of the Federal Government like the 
Internal Revenue Service, but I have to admit that I never thought it 
would be this hard either, especially on a question important to the 
safety of communities across my district and across our great country.
  My question to the previous IRS chief--and more recently the new 
agency head--has been a simple one: Can you clarify the rules within 
the President's health care law as they relate to volunteer 
firefighters? As my colleagues here tonight have noted, confusion 
exists within the first responder community about the effects of the 
health care law's mandates and the IRS's definition of an employee, 
which currently, as we have heard tonight, covers volunteer 
firefighters.
  Yet the question goes unanswered, and I can't offer any information 
or comfort to the fire departments who would be the one's hurt by the 
misguided mandate. One way or the other, they just want to know so they 
can keep on serving their communities.
  I would like to read just two emails of many, many emails that I have 
heard from my district about the importance of this situation.
  The first is from Charles Rumble, who is president of the 
Plumsteadville Fire Company:

       We are an all-volunteer fire company that is being 
     penalized for our ability to attract and retain members to 
     protect the community. There is no way that we--or our 
     community that supports us--can bear that cost of offering 
     insurance. We would be forced to shut down and our community 
     forced to seek substantially more costly and diminished fire 
     protection alternatives.
  From Frank Farry, who is chief of the Langhorne-Middletown Fire 
Company, who is also an elected State representative in Pennsylvania:

       The administration and the IRS have been aware of this 
     issue for months but yet have not taken any steps to address 
     it. The volunteer fire service already faces many challenges, 
     and if the ACA is applied to it, the volunteer fire 
     departments will have their backs broken.

  Mr. Speaker, waiting for an answer isn't good enough, especially for 
people with jobs as important as our volunteer firefighters. That is 
why I was proud to join with Congressman Barletta and so many others 
gathered here this evening in introducing the Protecting Volunteer 
Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act to try to address this 
problem legislatively.
  I know we all remain optimistic that the administration will address 
our concerns. We hope that the IRS takes action and takes action 
swiftly. If not, we are prepared to do so in this House.
  Mr. BARLETTA. Thank you, Mr. Fitzpatrick.
  Now I would like to yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. 
Dent).
  Mr. DENT. Thank you. I would like to also join my colleagues tonight 
in support of Representative Barletta's very important legislation to 
help clarify the fact that the volunteer firefighters should not be 
counted as full-time equivalents under the employer mandate under the 
health care law, more commonly known as ObamaCare.
  It has been very clear to me, after having meetings with many of my 
friends in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, where a number of firefighters 
from different fire companies came to speak to me on this issue, that 
the potential impact of this idea of counting volunteer firefighters as 
full-time equivalents will really have a very negative impact on public 
safety in that particular community, where volunteer firefighters 
really do provide the bulk of the fire service, as is the case in much 
of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and throughout the country.
  It is clear to me that the health care law is riddled with so many 
problems. We always knew that this employer mandate was going to be a 
problem where it says that if you have more than 50 employees you are 
going to have to provide health care benefits after the first 30 for 
those working more than 30 hours a week.
  I don't think anybody in their wildest imagination would have ever 
thought that a volunteer fire company would have been impacted by this. 
It raises a whole host of questions too: Well, are those volunteer 
firefighters part of the municipal workforce? There are all sorts of 
questions that we simply don't know the answers to.
  It is my hope that we never have to address the Barletta legislation, 
as important as it is. I am hopeful that the IRS will come to a ruling 
at some point to clarify the fact that these volunteers are not full-
time equivalents for the purpose of the health care law in the employee 
mandate. That would be the easiest way out. Absent an IRS ruling, well 
then let's pass this bill. I am proud to be a cosponsor. I am delighted 
that my good friend and colleague Lou Barletta, we share a county, 
Dauphin County, in the Harrisburg area. We share that county. This is 
also a very big issue in that part of the State.
  It is important that we move forward with this legislation in the 
event that the IRS fails to do its job and provide the clarity and the 
guidance that so many of our volunteers depend on. More important than 
the volunteers is the people they serve. These volunteer firefighters 
are protecting us and this employer mandate will only make that task 
that much more difficult and deny fire service, unfortunately, to too 
many people across the country in the Commonwealth.
  With that, I commend my friend, Mr. Barletta, for his very important 
legislation.

                              {time}  1900

  Mr. BARLETTA. Thank you, Mr. Dent.
  I would like to yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. 
Meehan).
  Mr. MEEHAN. I thank the gentleman.
  Mr. Speaker, I want to join the gentleman and my colleagues not just 
from Pennsylvania but from across the Nation as we challenge this 
problem that has emerged. Once again, it is symbolic of a number of 
things--of when we heard the mantra: just pass it, and we will find out 
what is in it.
  We have found out what is in it more and more frequently; and once 
again, we are beginning to see the implications of a law that was not 
understood when it was passed and that is now becoming worse as it is 
being implemented. As my colleagues have stated, it begins here in this 
particular circumstance with the IRS and the determination that 
volunteers are going to be considered to be employees of 
municipalities.
  In places like mine, the impact of this is very severe because, if 
this kind of thing happens in the first place, think of the concept of 
a volunteer. These are the guys who are getting up at 2:30 or 3 o'clock 
in the morning on these cold evenings like this and answering the call 
and going out and putting out the fires in homes in neighborhoods like 
ours. They are going to be considered to be employees under this law, 
but that means that the municipalities are going to be fined if they 
choose not to supply the kinds of medical that will be required under 
the Affordable Care Act, under ObamaCare. Then, if they do pay for it, 
what is going to happen in communities like mine is that that cost is 
going to be passed through.
  I sat and I asked the mayor--and I have five separate volunteer fire 
companies just in my own township--and he estimated that it would cost 
about $4 million a year to provide that kind of health care coverage to 
the members of the volunteer fire departments who were there. Now, 
where do you think that $4 million is going to come from? It is going 
to come from the homeowners and the taxpayers in our districts, who are 
going to see their taxes raised to pay for this service for volunteers. 
This is how insane it is.
  The second part of what is so frustrating is the difficulty of 
dealing with this bureaucracy because, some 3 months ago, like many of 
my colleagues, I wrote to the IRS and asked for a simple clarification: 
Why can't we just have a clear signal sent to these departments which 
rely on this kind of certainty to be able to make decisions as they 
move forward on the utilization of their resources? These are the guys 
who are holding bake sales to be able to find the money to put together 
the equipment and other kinds of needs that they have, and they have 
got to worry about whether they are going to be encumbered by this kind 
of a bill.
  So, for so many reasons, we need clarification and we need action. 
Once again, this is symbolic of the particular problems that are faced 
by this interpretation, which is affecting communities all across the 
Nation. When I

[[Page H67]]

say ``all across the Nation,'' that is 750,000 volunteers in fire 
departments and some 25,000 fire companies that are volunteers all 
across this Nation. It is touching every community in America.
  I join my colleagues in the hope that we will be able to get some 
action from the IRS and this administration so we don't have to rely on 
the passage of the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency 
Responders Act to get the clarification that we need.
  I thank my colleague for his leadership on this issue.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania.
  Mr. Speaker, if you could just imagine the bookkeeping nightmare that 
these volunteer fire departments would face in determining whether or 
not the volunteer firefighters have worked 30 hours or not in order to 
be considered a full-time employee or less. Do they count the times 
that they have their pagers on as hours worked or the time that they 
are listening to a scanner or the 12- or 24-hour shifts that many of 
the volunteers would have to work and who would record this? It is the 
fact that these men and women who are volunteers to protect the 
communities that they love would be forced into doing things that we 
just know they wouldn't do. It would simply close firehouses or 
volunteers would no longer be volunteering their time.
  I would like to yield to the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. David Joyce.
  Mr. JOYCE. I would like to thank the gentleman for yielding and thank 
Mr. Barletta for organizing this Special Order on this important 
legislation.
  Mr. Speaker, we are here today because it is critical that we protect 
our local volunteer firefighters from the Affordable Care Act's 
employer mandate. As we all know, the IRS has a history of treating 
volunteers as employees for tax purposes; and if the employer mandate 
is incorrectly implemented, volunteer fire departments may be forced to 
comply with these requirements, and that could force them to close or 
to curtail their emergency response services.
  In the seven counties I represent in northeastern Ohio, there are 
over 220 fire departments, many of them with an all-volunteer force. 
Chief Scott Hildebrand related to me that some of these departments 
will be forced to double in size due to the mandate, and each one of 
these extra volunteers will need additional turnout gear at a cost of 
$2,500 to $3,000 per individual.
  Before coming to Congress, I was the Geauga County prosecutor for 25 
years. During that time, I founded an organization called the Geauga 
Bluecoats. The Bluecoats is a charitable organization that provides 
relief and services to the family members of police, fire and emergency 
responders who have become disabled or who have lost their lives in the 
line of duty. These men and women are our friends--they are our 
neighbors--and they have gone above and beyond the call of duty. We owe 
it to our local communities to continue to allow these brave men and 
women to carry out their duties.
  This legislation will ensure that those brave men and women are 
protected from the employer mandate and can continue to serve.
  I thank Mr. Barletta for his leadership on this, and I urge my 
colleagues to support this legislation.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentleman from Ohio.
  I would like to yield to the gentlewoman from Kansas, Ms. Lynn 
Jenkins.
  Ms. JENKINS. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank him for 
his leadership on this critical issue. I will note that I am a proud 
cosponsor of this legislation.
  Mr. Speaker, I grew up on a family farm in Holton, Kansas. However, 
as anyone from a tight-knit community knows, folks see it as a civic 
duty to pitch in where help is needed. This means that many folks 
choose to be volunteer firefighters. These volunteers give freely of 
their time and well-being to help ensure that, when disaster occurs, 
folks in the community are safe. I know this well because my daddy 
served as a Kansas State fire marshal for many years.
  I have spent significant time on the House floor talking about the 
unintended consequences of passing the President's health care law, 
which allows the government to take control of the health care 
industry. This is another one of those unintended consequences. 
The President's health care law will penalize volunteer firefighters 
and EMTs by counting them as full-time employees and possibly 
subjecting their departments to the employer mandate tax.

  Penalizing volunteer fire departments should not be the intent of the 
President's health care law, and the effects could be disastrous. In 
Kansas alone, there are 550 volunteer fire departments that are staffed 
by 13,000 volunteer firefighters. It would be a terrible mistake to 
jeopardize the status of these departments and the communities they 
serve by penalizing them under the Affordable Care Act. Given the 
commonsense nature of this legislation and the bipartisan support of 
it, I remain committed to ensuring that this gets fixed.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentlewoman from Kansas.
  I yield to the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Barr).
  Mr. BARR. I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania for his leadership 
on this important issue.
  Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, the more we learn about ObamaCare, the 
more disappointing it becomes. The American people continue to be 
disappointed that President Obama's health care law is not only 
wreaking havoc on their families and that it is not only wreaking havoc 
on small businesses and on our economy but that now it could be 
endangering our communities that rely on emergency response services 
provided by volunteer firefighters and EMTs. This is impacting 
volunteer firefighters in my home State of Kentucky.
  Just this morning, despite a windchill of negative 5 degrees, 
firefighters in Anderson County, Kentucky, rushed to the aid of fellow 
citizens to battle a barn fire that was threatening to spread to a 
nearby home. As their equipment and even the water froze in the extreme 
temperatures, these brave firefighters courageously took shifts to 
protect their community.
  It is not unusual for these heroic men and women to routinely perform 
acts of bravery. It is also not unusual for them to hold pancake 
breakfasts or chili dinners simply to raise enough money to pay their 
electricity bills. These volunteer companies are now being asked to 
provide coverage under ObamaCare's costly employer mandate, which 
Anderson County Fire Chief Mike Barnes warned could force them to lay 
off heroic, life-saving personnel and leave communities like 
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, in Anderson County, without adequate fire 
protection.
  So, while fire departments work tirelessly to provide essential 
safety services, we must do everything we can to ensure that our 
emergency services volunteers are not forced to be counted as full-time 
employees under ObamaCare. It is a cost they simply cannot absorb.
  The project of ObamaCare is the project of the entire Obama 
Presidency. It is a project to determine whether or not Big Government 
can solve big problems. It is a project to determine whether or not the 
Federal Government can micromanage one-sixth of the American economy. 
With this issue with these volunteer fire departments, we now find out, 
once again, that ObamaCare and the project that it embodies is an 
abject failure.
  Mr. BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, may I have a time update, please.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Pennsylvania has 10 
minutes remaining.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I would like to yield at this time to the gentleman 
from New York (Mr. Collins).
  Mr. COLLINS of New York. I would like to thank my friend from 
Pennsylvania for taking up this important and timely issue.
  Mr. Speaker, ObamaCare has proven to be the devastating law that many 
of us predicted. The recent debacle of the online exchange roll-out and 
the negative impact the law has had on our economy seem to be only the 
beginning of the problems we face. Every few weeks, we hear about more 
unintended consequences of the law, which are hurting the very people 
the President and the Democrats in Congress promised to protect.
  The IRS considers volunteer emergency responders, including 
firefighters, employees for tax purposes. Under this employee 
designation, large

[[Page H68]]

volunteer fire departments will be subject to the ObamaCare employer 
mandate. This will force them to provide health insurance to their 
volunteers or to pay a significant penalty. These unnecessary costs 
will cripple the strong volunteer fire community that protects western 
New York and the rest of the country.
  In November of last year, I wrote a letter to the Acting Commissioner 
of the IRS, seeking a specific exemption for volunteer responders, but 
my office has yet to receive a reply. Since the administration has not 
corrected this disservice to America's volunteer EMTs and firefighters, 
we must act legislatively.
  I urge the House to take up H.R. 3685 and address this issue as soon 
as possible. We must protect our volunteer emergency service responders 
so they can continue to protect us.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentleman from New York.
  I yield to the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Stivers).
  Mr. STIVERS. I would like to thank the gentleman for yielding, and I 
would like to thank him for his strong leadership on this issue.
  Mr. Speaker, I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 3685. The health care law 
could cause many communities to lose fire service because of an 
unintended consequence of the law that would treat these volunteer 
firefighters as employees and that would require them to have health 
insurance.
  Volunteer firefighters risk their lives every day to provide our 
safety. They provide important emergency services in many of our 
communities. In fact, in Ohio, 70 percent of our fire departments are 
either fully or partially staffed by over 16,000 volunteer 
firefighters. Unfortunately, we could risk service in some of our 
communities if these communities are required to pay either a penalty 
or provide insurance. My district towns, like McConnelsville, Ohio, use 
volunteer firefighters, and they raise money. Every year at a dinner, 
they raise about $10,000 to help pay for the costs associated with 
their volunteer firefighters. If they had to pay penalties and 
insurance on top of that, it could cause them to lose service. I think 
these families and these communities that are served by volunteer 
firefighters deserve the same service as other communities and 
shouldn't lose their services as a result of the health care law.
  We don't want to put American families and Ohio families at risk of 
losing their fire service, which is why I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 
3685.
  I would like to thank the gentleman for his leadership, and I hope 
everyone will support the bill.
  Mr. BARLETTA. Mr. Speaker, may I have a time update again.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Pennsylvania has 6 
minutes remaining.
  Mr. BARLETTA. Thank you.
  I would like to yield to the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. 
Meadows).
  Mr. MEADOWS. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank him for 
his leadership on this commonsense approach to solving a problem that 
was unintended.
  Mr. Speaker, when it really gets down to it, our firefighters and our 
first responders deserve our attention and our support. They are the 
ones who, quite frankly, are missing birthdays, anniversaries, who are 
called out in the middle of the night to serve their communities. My 
communities in western North Carolina are served by some of the 
greatest volunteers that a country could want; and here we are tonight, 
debating this over something that should be common sense.
  I would just urge my colleagues across the aisle to join with many of 
the fire chiefs whom we talked to today--over 13 of them--from large 
counties and small counties alike, Democrats and Republicans. Every one 
of them without exception, Mr. Speaker, said that we need to address 
this because it will hurt the people that they serve.

                              {time}  1915

  I think it is time that we come together in this Chamber and make 
sure that we correct a wrong that has been done.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentleman.
  I would like to yield to the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. 
McKinley).
  Mr. McKINLEY. Thank you, Congressman, for your leadership on this 
matter.
  According to Tom Miller, the West Virginia representative to the 
National Volunteer Fire Council, 95 percent of all fire departments in 
West Virginia are staffed by volunteers.
  To pay for their training, equipment, and operating costs, these men 
and women are forced to raise money through bake sales, pancake 
breakfasts, steak dinners, and standing in the streets, humbly, at the 
stoplights, holding their boots out and asking people to put money into 
those boots. And now these financially strapped fire departments have 
been told that they may have to pay health care costs.
  Mr. Miller has projected that the added cost of paying for this 
health care for these volunteers will force some departments to close 
their doors, putting families and businesses at risk.
  Mr. Speaker, cutting emergency services upon which rural America 
depends is clearly an unintended consequence of ObamaCare. Therefore, 
we must exempt our volunteer emergency responders from this additional 
cost by bringing this bill to the floor as soon as possible.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentleman from West Virginia.
  I yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Thompson).
  Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. I thank the gentleman for yielding and 
for sponsoring this. As a 30-year-plus State-certified volunteer EMT 
and rescue technician, on behalf of my brother and sister firefighters 
and rescue workers, EMTs, EMS folks, thank you for your leadership on 
this.
  Just very quickly, our volunteers are not employees. Our volunteers 
are neighbors helping neighbors. Our volunteers are community servants. 
They are trained professionals today. They are heroes. They are willing 
to walk into burning buildings when everyone else is running out. But 
they are not employees. And it is time for the Obama administration and 
the IRS to give us that clarification.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania.
  I yield to the gentlewoman from South Dakota (Mrs. Noem).
  Mrs. NOEM. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
  I rise today as a cosponsor of H.R. 3685, the Protecting Volunteer 
Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. I am very proud to do so.
  In my home State of South Dakota, there are nearly 8,000 volunteer 
firefighters and over 350 volunteer fire departments. These men and 
women are on the front lines protecting our families, our homes, and 
our businesses. Nearly every one of them fulfills that duty while 
holding down a full-time or part-time job that oftentimes covers their 
health insurance coverage.
  I had one constituent from Rapid City drive home the point to me, 
talking about the shoestring budget they operate on. Many departments 
raise money privately at community events and dinners to make ends 
meet. Requiring them to cover health insurance, as the Affordable Care 
Act may do, would be extremely detrimental.
  Emergency service volunteers are essential to our safety and well-
being for South Dakota families and businesses. That is why I am proud 
to support this bill and proud to speak on its behalf today.
  Mr. BARLETTA. I thank the gentlewoman from South Dakota.
  Mr. Speaker, I had sincerely hoped that we wouldn't have to be here 
this evening to take up the valuable time of this body, but the flaws 
in the Affordable Care Act and the deafening silence from the IRS on a 
question so basic and obvious compels our attention.
  Over 1,000 different groups have received waivers from the Affordable 
Care Act, covering over 3 million people. Don't our volunteer 
firefighters and the communities they serve and protect deserve at 
least the same consideration?
  Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

                          ____________________