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Obamacare And Volunteer Fire Departments

As we’ve seen over the last few months, the Obamacare rollout has been a complete disaster. It seems like each day we learn of another problem with this unworkable law. Arkansans have seen their premiums rise, insurance cancelled, hours cut—the list goes on—and now they can add the closure of their local fire departments to that list. Recently, its come to light that certain provisions in Obamacare could increase costs and ultimately close the doors of volunteer fire departments across Arkansas.

Because of the unique nature of their field, volunteer firefighters may be assigned to multiple 12- and 24-hour shifts—easily allowing them to work in excess of 30 hours per week. Additionally, because these fire departments are volunteer, they may ‘employ’ well over 50 firefighters—especially in more populous areas.

Under Obamacare’s employer mandate, businesses with over 50 full-time employees—defined as working 30 hours per week—are required to provide health insurance or pay a fine. The IRS, which has enforcement power over much of Obamacare, classifies volunteer firefighters as employees, not volunteers. This means many volunteer fire departments would be required to provide health insurance for their firefighters.

Almost 94 percent of fire departments in Arkansas are either fully or mostly volunteer. These firefighters provide crucial emergency response services that keep our communities safe. But many of these fire departments are already operating on limited budgets. Forcing them to comply with the employer mandate would force them to eliminate many of their volunteers or even close their doors for good.

Volunteer fire departments are invaluable to communities across Arkansas and the country and we simply can’t afford to lose them. That is why I have sponsored H.R. 3685, the Protecting Firefighters and Emergency Responders act, legislation that would clarify the employer mandate as it pertains to volunteer fire departments. Specifically, this bill would ensure that emergency services volunteers are not counted as full-time employees under Obamacare mandates. These emergency services volunteers would include both volunteer firefighters and volunteers providing emergency medical services.

Full repeal is ultimately the best solution to this Obamacare debacle. But until that can be achieved, I remain committed to saving Arkansans from the worst effects of this terrible law. Keeping our volunteer fire departments open will ensure Arkansas communities remain safe and well-protected.

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