Obamacare may force volunteer firefighter companies to close

Wheelwrites, buggy whip makers, mom and pop grocery stores - all disappeared as a result of the march of progress.

But volunteer firefighter companies may go the way of the blacksmiths due to the destructive entity known as Obamacare.

Apparently, the IRS doesn't know what "volunteer" means. They are classifying firefighters who volunteer their time to serve their communities as "employees." This means that small municipalities have to purchase health insurance for their "workers" - cash they don't have and aren't likely to get.

Daily Mail:

Since the Obamacare law doesn't specifically carve out an exemption for them, fire departments where 50 or more people work - either as volunteers or officially as employees - are expected to provide health insurance for every one of them.

In towns with more than one volunteer fire department, all the staffers will likely be lumped together for tax purposes, pushing many municipalities above the 50-worker threshold.

That could cost departments of life-savers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Those that dump their volunteers into the federal insurance exchanges would still have to pay an annual $2,000 fine for each 'employee' after the first 30.

'I can tell you right now we can't afford it,' East Derry, Pennsylvania Fire Company Chief Edward Mann told the Patriot-News. 'While a volunteer fire department may not have a payroll, the rest of it isn't free. The only part that is free is the labor.'

Mann's concerns are likely to get at least some attention in Washington: He's also the state fire commissioner in Pennsylvania, where 97 per cent of fire departments are fully or mostly staffed by volunteers. That's the highest percentage in the U.S.

Nationally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that volunteer fire departments make up 71 per cent of America's 1 million firehouses. Another 16 per cent are 'mostly volunteer.'

It's unclear how many of those departments involve at least 50 people, making the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act's latest unintended consequence difficult to calculate.

But the International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Internal Revenue Service to let all volunteer departments off the hook. The federal government has taken no action so far.

'If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely,' the organization said in a statement.

In addition to its quirky definition of "volunteer," the IRS is also in charge of defining "political activity" for non-profits. Doesn't that make you feel better?

Obviously, Congress or the IRS are going to have to fix this latest mess. It is remarkable that even after its launch, we are still discovering unintended consequences resulting from passage of the bill. I have a feeling we're not done yet.

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