Del. volunteer firefighters spared [video]

 (Shirley Min/WHYY)

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

The president of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association described fighting an “unintended consequence” of the Affordable Care Act as one of the shortest battles fought in Washington, D.C as of late.

At issue, whether volunteer fire companies count their volunteer firefighters as employees. The ACA, widely known as Obamacare, requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance or face a fine.

The way the legislation was written, it certainly would’ve put the fire departments in a new financial strain because of trying to find money to meet the Affordable Care requirements,” said DVFA President Richard Toulson, who along with other leaders in the volunteer firefighting community approached Delaware Senator Chris Coons about the matter back in November.

“While the Dept. of Labor doesn’t classify volunteer firefighters as employees, the Internal Revenue Service does. And for too long this conflict went unresolved,” Sen. Coons, D-Del, said in a news conference at the Elsmere Fire Company today. Elsmere has four full-time staff members on the payroll and about 50 volunteer firefighters. “Just about every Delaware volunteer fire company would’ve been on the hook to provide insurance or be penalized.”

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Because most volunteer firefighters already have full-time jobs and health insurance, Coons says all of the volunteer fire companies in the state were not prepared for what he described as an unexpected, unbudgeted and “unintended fiscal burden.” Consequently, the fire companies, he warned, would have to either scale back its volunteers or sacrifice resources to provide health care or pay up. Toulson, who didn’t have an exact figure, said the expense would have cost tens of thousands of dollars.

To ensure that volunteer firefighters would not be counted as employees, Coons, along with Delaware’s Congressional Delegation introduced the Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, last month, which clarifies the “Shared Responsibility” provision under Obamacare.

Last Friday, about two months after the fact, Coons received a letter saying volunteer fire companies were exempt from the mandate. Because the law didn’t need to be changed, only interpreted and clarified, the Treasury Department was able to reconcile the conflict independent of Congress.

“The roughly 780,000 volunteer firefighters nationwide will not be counted as employees for purposes of the Affordable Care Act,” Coons said.

Delaware has 60 volunteer fire companies throughout the state, and 6,000 volunteer firefighters.

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