Important Recruitment and Retention Bills Introduced in Congress
March 3, 2015
On February 27, three pieces of legislation were introduced in Congress that would clarify how volunteer benefits are taxed, making it easier for local agencies and governments to establish and administer incentive programs to bolster recruitment and retention efforts. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) along with Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) introduced and the Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act (S. 616/H.R. 1171). Senators Schumer and Collins also introduced the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (S. 609). The House version is expected to be introduced later this month.
S. 616/H.R. 1171 would clarify the federal tax treatment of length of service award programs (LOSAPs). LOSAP is a retirement savings plan that thousands of volunteer emergency services agencies offer as a way to retain veteran personnel. Approximately 20 percent of the nation’s volunteer firefighters participate in some type of LOSAP. S. 609 would exempt from federal income tax and withholding any property tax reduction or other recruitment and retention incentive up to $600 per year that a volunteer firefighter or EMS provider receives.
“There is no greater challenge facing the volunteer emergency services today than recruitment and retention,” said Chief Philip C. Stittleburg, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). “The Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act as well as the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act will give local agencies and governments much-needed flexibility to implement incentive programs that work for their community. On behalf of the nation’s volunteer emergency response community I’d like to thank Senators Schumer and Collins and Representatives King and Pascrell for introducing these critical pieces of legislation.”
According to U.S. Fire Department Profile Through 2013, a report published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are 786,150 volunteer firefighters serving in 27,575 fire departments across the country, including 19,807 fire departments staffed by volunteers only. Another NFPA report, The Total Cost of Fire, published in March 2014, estimated that the monetary value of time donated by volunteer firefighters in the United States in 2011 was approximately $139.8 billion.
Fire and EMS agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the next generation of volunteers. Heightened training and certification requirements have made volunteer emergency response an extraordinarily time-consuming activity, even as a variety of shifting societal factors have left fewer young people with less free time available in communities traditionally served by volunteers. This has created challenges in attracting younger volunteers, which are reflected in data from NFPA’s annual Fire Department Profile reports showing a 14.9 percent drop in the number of firefighters under the age of 40 serving in communities of 2,500 or fewer residents since 2000.