NVFC Legislative Action: Reviewing a Successful 2017 on Capitol Hill and Planning for 2018

2017 was a banner year for the volunteer fire service on Capitol Hill, but there is a lot still left to do. The following is a list of accomplishments over the past year along with an overview of the work left to be done.

2017 Legislative Victory: Reauthorizing AFG/SAFER and USFA
The National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) top legislative priority for 2017 was reauthorizing the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs, which were scheduled to be eliminated via statute in January 2018. Instead of being eliminated, AFG and SAFER were extended through FY 2023 when President Trump signed H.R. 4661 into law on January 3, 2018. H.R. 4661 also reauthorized the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) through FY 2023.

2018 Focus: Funding AFG/SAFER and USFA
While H.R. 4661 extends the grants for six years, Congress still needs to fund the programs on an annual basis. In FY 2017 Congress provided $345 million each for AFG and SAFER. On September 14 the House passed FY 2018 appropriations legislation providing $345 million for AFG and $365 million for SAFER. Legislation proposed in the Senate would provide $345 million each for AFG and SAFER in FY 2018. The NVFC along with other national fire service orgs has asked Congress to provide $355 million each for AFG and SAFER in the final FY 2018 appropriations legislation.

2017 Legislative Victory: Tax Reform Legislation Includes NVFC Provisions
The NVFC also worked to include several important fire service provisions in H.R. 1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. H.R. 1 doubles the federal cap on annual contributions into length of service award programs (LOSAPs), and creates a tax incentive for installing fire protection systems like fire sprinklers in commercial structures. The NVFC also opposed language in an early version of H.R. 1 that would have increased borrowing costs for private, nonprofit fire departments. That language was not included in the final version of the bill.

2018 Focus: Additional Volunteer Incentive Tax Bills
The Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA) exempts up to $600 per year in recruitment and retention incentives that volunteer emergency responders receive as a reward for their service from being subject to federal income tax and withholding. An extension of VRIPA – which was law from 2008-2010 – was included in tax legislation that passed out of the Senate Finance Committee in 2016 but was not enacted. That bill is expected to be reintroduced in the near future and the NVFC will be working to ensure that VRIPA is included in it.

With the cap on LOSAP contributions increased as part of H.R. 1, the NVFC plans to pursue additional changes to how LOSAP is treated under the tax code. The NVFC is currently working with House and Senate offices to develop a bill that would allow LOSAP plan sponsors to make contributions guaranteed and portable.

2017 Legislative Victory: Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) Funding Increase
The NVFC was also able to secure a $2 million funding increase for the VFA grant program in 2017. On May 5, FY 2017 appropriations legislation (H.R. 224) providing $15 million for VFA was signed into law, representing the first time since 2011 that Congress has provided more than $13 million for VFA. Then on September 14, the House of Representatives passed FY 2018 appropriations legislation funding VFA at $16 million, after an amendment supported by the NVFC increasing funding for VFA and the State Fire Assistance program was adopted unanimously.

2018 Focus: Continued VFA Funding
Final FY 2018 appropriations have not been finalized and remain a top priority for the NVFC. The NVFC has asked the House and Senate to provide $16 million for VFA, in line with the funding included in the House-passed bill. Restoring VFA to $16 million would equal the amount provided in FY 2010, the highest level that VFA has ever been funded at.

2017 Legislative Victory: House Passage of Firefighter Cancer Registry Act
The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931) passed the House of Representatives in September. H.R. 931 directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a registry of firefighters to collect relevant health information that can be linked to existing cancer registry data.

2018 Focus: Enactment of Firefighter Cancer Registry Act
One of the NVFC’s top legislative priorities in 2018 will be getting the Senate to pass the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act so that it can be signed into law. You can use the NVFC’s Legislative Action Center to ask your Senators to co-sponsor S. 382, the Senate version of the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.

Additional Legislative Priorities in 2018:

  • Extension of Ambulance Transport “Add-on” Payments: The rate that Medicare reimburses EMS providers for ambulance transport was reduced on January 1, 2018, after Congress failed to extend “add-on” payments – increases of 2-23 percent (depending location, urban, suburban, rural) over the base rate for ambulance transport – that were set to expire on that date. The NVFC has asked Congress to extend the add-on payments retroactively to January as soon as possible.
  • Volunteer Recruitment and Retention Bills: The NVFC worked with Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to develop two bills that were introduced late in 2017 to help fire and EMS agencies recruit and retain volunteer personnel. The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act (S. 1831) would expand eligibility for volunteer emergency responders to participate in two federal housing assistance programs. The Volunteer First Responder Loan Forgiveness Act (S. 2207) would make volunteer emergency responders eligible to participate in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Building support for these bills is a priority for the NVFC in 2018.

Visit the NVFC web site at www.nvfc.org to learn about all of the NVFC’s legislative priorities and stay up-to-date on legislative news. Sign up for alerts and contact your members of Congress through the NVFC’s Legislative Action Center at http://cqrcengage.com/nvfc/actioncenter.