Senate Committee Passes Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act

Action on VRIPA Possible After the Election

capitolOn September 21 the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation exempting nominal benefits that volunteer emergency responders receive as a reward for their service from being subject to federal income tax, withholding, and reporting. Language from the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA), which excludes property tax benefits and up to $600 of other types of benefits for the 2017 tax year, was added to the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act, which the Committee approved by a voice vote. The amendment was sought by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Senate sponsors of VRIPA (S. 609/H.R. 2752).

“On behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) I’d like to thank Senators Schumer and Collins for their work on this important legislation, which will help local emergency response agencies recruit and retain volunteer personnel,” said NVFC Chair Kevin D. Quinn. “On average a volunteer firefighter in the United States donates services worth more than $18,000 to the community that he or she serves. It is common sense to clarify that the nominal incentives that volunteers receive as a reward for their service should not be taxed by the federal government.”

On September 14 the sponsors of the House version of VRIPA, Representatives John Larson (D-CT) and David Reichert (R-WA), offered VRIPA as an amendment to H.R. 5946, the U.S. Appreciation for Olympians and Paralympians Act, which exempts the awards that American Olympic medal-winners receive from being subject to federal income taxes. The amendment, which was offered during a markup in the House Ways and Means Committee, was deemed to be non-germane, but before it was withdrawn the Chairman of the Committee, Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), promised to work with Representatives Larson and Reichert on moving VRIPA in the future.

“If Olympians don’t have to pay taxes on the tens of thousands of dollars that they receive for winning medals it is only fair that volunteer fire and EMS personnel should be exempt from paying tax on their nominal benefits,” said Quinn. “After all, the value of the services provided and the level of training and sacrifice made by Olympians and volunteer emergency responders in service to our nation far exceeds the monetary value of any compensation received. I’d like to thank Representatives Larson and Reichert for highlighting this during the committee markup of H.R. 5946 and leveraging the opportunity to build support for VRIPA.”

Congress is in recess until after the general election on Tuesday, November 8. There are several tax bills that have an opportunity to be enacted when Congress returns, including the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act. The NVFC will continue to work to identify opportunities to pass VRIPA before the end of the year and will provide updates if and when votes take place on the House or Senate floor. In the meantime, you can use the NVFC’s Legislative Action Center to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators to ask them to support VRIPA.