Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act Passes Senate as Part of Unemployment Insurance Extension

On April 7, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 3979, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, as the legislative vehicle for the Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits extension. H.R. 3979 amends the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) to clarify in statute that volunteer emergency responders are not counted as employees under health care reform.

H.R. 3979 now goes back to the House, which originally passed the bill on March 11. It is unclear at this time whether the House will pass or even vote on the bill with the UI extension language included.

In February, the U.S. Department of Treasury published final implementing regulations for the PPACA clarifying that bona fide volunteers will not be counted as employees under the law. As a result, agencies will not be penalized for failing to offer health insurance benefits to nominally compensated volunteers. This had been a major concern for the NVFC. Enacting H.R.3979 would essentially codify the Treasury regulations for volunteer emergency responders.