Volunteer fire departments on which many communities across the nation rely for an essential public service may be a thing of the past thanks to Obamacare. Why? Because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is enforcing the law’s employer mandate, classifies these volunteers as employees:
The International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Internal Revenue Service, which has partial oversight of the law, to clarify if current IRS treatment of volunteer firefighters as employees means their hose companies or towns must offer health insurance coverage or pay a penalty if they don’t.
The organization representing the fire chiefs has been working on the issue with the IRS and White House for months.
“It could be a huge deal,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, who is seeking clarification from the IRS. “In Pennsylvania, 97 percent of fire departments are fully or mostly volunteer firefighters. It’s the fourth highest amount in the country.”
So far, the IRS hasn’t decided what to do.
The requirement is complicated by differing interpretations about the status of volunteer firefighters within the federal government. The Department of Labor, according to the fire chiefs group, classifies most volunteers as non-employees, but the IRS considers all volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel to be employees of their departments.
The employer mandate requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, defined as someone who works at least 30 hours a week, to offer health insurance benefits or face a punitive, $2,000 per worker tax. Statutorily set to take effect in 2014, the provision was unilaterally delayed for one year by the Obama Administration, until 2015.
It remains to be seen how many communities this would actually effect, but Fox News notes that of the 1 million fire departments in the country, 71% of all volunteer and another 16% are “mostly volunteer.” Bartletta, the congressman who has voiced concerns to the IRS, says that 97% of the fire departments in his state rely on volunteers.