Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act Introduced in the Senate, Advances in House

On April 11, 2019, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), along with a bi-partisan group of original cosponsors, introduced the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act (VRIPA), which exempts nominal volunteer recruitment and retention incentives from being subject to federal income tax. An identical bill in the House was introduced in February by Representatives John Larson (D-CT) and Mike Kelly (R-PA).

“On behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), I’d like to thank Senators Collins and Cardin, and all of the original cosponsors, for introducing this commonsense bill to help local emergency response agencies recruit and retain volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue personnel,” said NVFC Chair Kevin D. Quinn.

VRIPA (S. 1210/H.R. 1241) makes property tax benefits and up to $600 per year in other incentives that volunteer firefighters, EMS, and rescue personnel receive as a reward for their service exempt from federal income taxation and reporting. VRIPA initially became law in 2008 but expired in 2010. Under S. 1210/H.R. 1241 the tax exemption would be permanent and take effect beginning in 2020.

On April 2, the House Ways and Means Committee passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act (H.R. 1994), which includes a one-year reinstatement of VRIPA for the 2020 tax year. Having passed out of committee, the next step for H.R. 1994 is to go to the full House of Representatives. Similar legislation, the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act (S. 972), including a one-year reinstatement of VRIPA, was introduced in the Senate on April 1.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that the value of services provided by volunteer firefighters in the United States is approximately $46.9 billion annually. Without those donated services, many communities would be unable to provide emergency services protection at all while others would be forced to raise taxes to pay salaries and benefits for full- or part-time staff.

Unfortunately, many fire, EMS, and rescue agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain the next generation of volunteers. As jobs leave small towns and young people move to cities and suburbs in search of work, there are fewer people available in smaller communities to volunteer as emergency responders. Additionally, as training requirements and call volumes continue to rise, the time commitment necessary to serve as a volunteer has ballooned. A new report that was released by the NFPA in March estimated that between 2015 and 2017, the number of volunteer firefighters in the United States declined by more than 132,000.

In order to improve recruitment and retention, many fire, EMS, and rescue departments provide benefits, including non-monetary gifts, reductions in property taxes or other fees, per-call payments, and/or stipends. Enacting VRIPA would reduce administrative burdens on departments that offer benefits and reduce the tax burden on volunteers who receive them. Use the NVFC’s Legislative Action Center to ask your U.S. Representative and Senators to cosponsor VRIPA.