The Affordable Care Act could lead to major financial problems at volunteer fire departments all across the country, possibly causing some to shut down unless Congress comes up with a way to exempt firefighters from the law.
The problem begins with how the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service view volunteer firefighters. The Labor Department considers them to be actual volunteers while the IRS believes they are technically employees if they work more than 30 hours per week, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) said on its website.
And for any volunteer fire department that has more than 50 firefighters who work more than 30 hours per week, whether as volunteers or official employees, that department will be required to provide health insurance to its employees, the Daily Mail noted.
“I thought the kinks were worked out of Obamacare at the first of the month,” Florida volunteer firefighter Carl Fabrizi told Sunshine State News. “Man, oh, man, this could potentially destroy some real good companies in Florida.”
Further, towns that have more than one volunteer fire department will likely combine departments for tax purposes. This means several municipalities could see their numbers jumping above 50 workers, meaning they will be obligated to follow the Obamacare employer mandate.
Obviously, this could cost several departments several thousands of dollars. Considering many departments already struggle to raise funds, the costs of complying with Obamacare could prove disastrous.
Additionally, according to the Daily Mail, even if departments put their volunteers in the federal insurance exchanges, they still need to pay $2,000 annually for each “employee” after the first 30.
“I can tell you right now we can’t afford it,” Chief Edward Mann, who works out of East Derry, Pa., told PennLive.com. “While a volunteer fire department may not have a payroll, the rest of it isn’t free. The only part that is free is the labor.”
Volunteer fire departments account for approximately 71 percent of America's nearly 1 million firehouses, according to the IAFC. An additional 16 percent are “mostly volunteer.”
However, it's not exactly clear how many of those departments are staffed with 50 or more firefighters, meaning it’s almost impossible to predict what effect Obamacare will have on the nation’s fire departments.
For its part, the IAFC has requested that the IRS exempt all volunteer departments from Obamacare.
“If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely,” the organization said in a statement.
Lawmakers in the nation’s capital have not yet taken any action.
The U.S. Treasury Department has “received a number of comments concerning volunteer firefighters and other volunteers in response to proposed regulations issued last December,” a representative said in a statement. “We are taking those comments into account as we work toward issuing final regulations on the employer-responsibility provision” of Obamacare.
As of this writing, it’s unclear how federal officials plan on resolving the issue.
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This post has been updated.