April 22, 2019

Cardin, Collins Introduce Legislation to Support Volunteer Firefighters & First Responders

Bipartisan bill would help communities recruit, retain volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, introduced the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA), bipartisan legislation to enhance communities’ ability to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel.

“Local communities depend on the public service of volunteer firefighters to stay safe and secure. These modest changes will make it easier for communities across Maryland and nationwide to recruit and retain the bravest men and women who are ready to defend against whatever might come next,” said Senator Cardin. “Protecting our communities from harm is one of the most basic functions of government.” 

“Across our nation, volunteer firefighters play a critical role in helping to ensure the safety of our communities and the well-being of our neighbors.  Maine is largely a rural state, and more than 90 percent of firefighters are volunteers.  Without these public-spirited citizens, many smaller communities would be unable to provide firefighting and other emergency services at all,” said Senator Collins.  “This bipartisan bill would protect cost-effective incentives that support the brave men and women who volunteer to protect their communities, and I urge our colleagues to join us in supporting the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act.

“I’d like to thank Senator Cardin for introducing this bill exempting volunteer benefits from being taxed by the federal government,” said Eric Bernard, a volunteer firefighter in Rockville who also serves as the Executive Director of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association. “Recruitment and retention of volunteers is a major challenge for fire and EMS agencies in Maryland and across the nation. Passage of the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act will make it easier for communities to offer incentives to their volunteers.”

“Call and volunteer emergency responders are absolutely critical in a predominantly rural state like Maine,” said Ken Desmond, President of the Maine State Federation of Firefighters.  “We thank Senator Collins for introducing this important legislation, which will support our efforts to maintain uniform and effective emergency response services throughout the State of Maine.”

In order to bolster recruitment and retention, many fire and EMS agencies now provide benefits, including non-monetary gifts, reductions in property taxes, per-call payments, stipends, or retirement benefits.  The Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act would allow communities to provide volunteer firefighters and EMS workers with up to $600 per year of property tax reductions or other incentives, without those benefits being subject to federal income tax and withholding.  This would ease the administrative burden that local departments sometimes face when they reward their volunteers with minor benefits.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee has introduced the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, which incorporates VRIPA authored by Senators Cardin and Collins. 

Click HERE to read the full-text of the bill.

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