Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on Monday applauded the Internal Revenue Service’s decision not to force volunteer fire departments and other emergency response units to comply with the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
In a video message, Walden said, “I’m glad the IRS made a good decision for once when it comes to Obamacare. If they had not made this decision, volunteer firefighter departments all across the rural West and our district specifically would’ve been affected. They would’ve had to count volunteers as if they would paid, full-time employees.
‘We know what kind of cost that would’ve been put on top of these fire departments; they couldn’t have borne it. And so, whether you like or dislike Obamacare, we ought to be able to agree that volunteers are volunteers, and that’s what the IRS ruling means. It’s very important for our district, very important for our country, and certainly for our firefighters who want to volunteer their services.”
On December 26, 2013, Walden announced he had added his name as a co-sponsor of the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act (H.R. 3685) to exempt volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians from the employer mandate.
Prior to the recent decision by the IRS, the agency had considered volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians working 30 hours per week as full time employees, forcing units to provide health insurance or pay a fine if they are large enough.
This could have had a big impact in Oregon, and Walden heard strong concern from fire chiefs around the state. Nearly 90 percent of Oregon’s 297 fire departments are classified as all volunteer or mostly volunteer agencies, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Next week, Walden will meet with firefighters in White City who had been concerned about how they would be classified by the agency. Further details will be announced once they are finalized.