Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Ruling Yet by IRS on Volunteer Firefighters; Readers Want to Know If They'll Be Exempt from Obamacare Requirement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No Ruling Yet by IRS on Volunteer Firefighters; Readers Want to Know If They'll Be Exempt from Obamacare Requirement

Article excerpt

Byline: Carole Fader

Times-Union readers want to know:

Viral emails claim that the Affordable Care Act forces fire departments to provide health insurance to their volunteers. The emails say that this will force many volunteer departments to shut down. We volunteers want to know if this is true.

There are more than 30,000 fire departments in the U.S.; a little more than 20,000 are all volunteer, with another 5,445 mostly volunteer, the National Volunteer Fire Council told FactCheck.org. Altogether, more than 783,000 volunteer firefighters served in the U.S. in 2012, the council estimated.

So that would be a lot of health insurance. But the IRS has not yet ruled on whether volunteer firefighters are exempt from the insurance mandate.

This email claim probably originated, FactCheck.org reports, because of a Dec. 9 story in England's Daily Mail (" 'A public safety disaster': Obamacare could force THOUSANDS of volunteer fire departments to close"), as well as one from Fox News Insider that ran the next day ("ObamaCare May Force Thousands of Volunteer Fire Departments to Close").

There's a lot of supposition thanks to the words "could" and "may," FactCheck.org notes.

The ACA mandates that businesses with more than 50 full-time workers (those working at least 30 hours per week) are required to provide health insurance to all employees or face a tax penalty of $2,000 per employee after the first 30 employees. But that mandate was postponed, and now won't go into effect until 2015.

The crux of the matter is that the IRS hasn't yet said how the law relates to volunteers. The lack of information is producing worry among fire officials that they'd have to provide insurance to volunteers, or face a penalty.

The concern is not entirely unfounded, FactCheck.org reports. A long-standing IRS policy designates volunteer firefighters to be "employees" for tax purposes. That's because some volunteer firefighters receive a small stipend for things like travel or other expenses.

Heather Schafer, executive director of the National Volunteer Fire Council, has already sent a letter to the IRS, saying, "This would be a public safety disaster. …

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