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No so common sense PDF Print
Saturday, December 14, 2013 9:02 PM

BY KIRK DOUGAL

 

“Common sense is not so common.”

- Voltaire from “A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary”

 

Every day the U.S. federal government and its agencies appear to do their best to prove Voltaire correct.

Right now the safety of the vast majority of small communities around the country is under attack. As the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - limps and stumbles its way toward full implementation after three years, Americans continue to discover new items within the legislation that will affect them adversely.

Under the ACA, businesses with more than 50 full-time employees, or their equivalents, must offer an approved health insurance plan to their employees or face penalties. The federal agency in charge of deciding who is and who is not a full-time employee is the Internal Revenue Service.

And here is where the lack of common sense makes its appearance.

The IRS has made the determination that volunteer firefighters are full-time employees:

“It does not matter whether firefighters are termed ‘volunteers,’ are considered employees, or are identified by any other name, if the work they do is subject to the will and control of the payer, under the common-law rules, they are employees for Federal tax purposes.”

That statement comes straight from the IRS website (www.irs.gov) in a section devoted to only questions about firefighters.

So what does that mean to Van Wert County residents?

Even though these men and women who risk their lives are volunteers, the government considers them employees. That means rules and regulations from the ACA take affect which would force fire departments to offer health insurance to all its volunteers.

But wait, how often does a volunteer firefighter from Middle Point or Ohio City “work” 30 hours putting out fires in a week?

Again - with another lack of common sense - it does not matter. The IRS also counts call hours as a part of their work week. So if a firefighter is on call from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., that would count as 12 hours of work time. With virtually all small volunteer fire departments asking their volunteers to take calls throughout the week, most if not all would be over the 30-hour limit.

But what if the local volunteer fire department does not have 50 employees? Are they exempt?

Probably not. The IRS has indicated they will lump together volunteer fire departments from the same area and call them one employer. That means they may add Middle Point, Ohio City, Wren and Willshire into one employee base because of their service to the residents in Van Wert County.

According to the International Association of Fire Chiefs, there are approximately 750,000 volunteer firefighters in the U.S., roughly 72 percent of all firefighters in the country. They serve in more than 20,000 all-volunteer fire departments and 5,000 combination career/volunteer fire departments. Many communities are completely covered by only volunteer fire departments.

Now imagine each and every one of these fire departments needing to find funding - most likely through tax levies or their equivalents - in order to pay for the regulated Obamacare health plans just to stay open. In many areas the failure of funding would close station houses and leave residents without coverage.

Legislation is being introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives to exempt volunteer firefighters from the ACA, redefining them as non-employees. While we find it hard to believe that the legislative step is even necessary, we think it is the correct move and we encourage Congress to pass the bill and send it to President Obama for his signature.

After all, it only makes sense.

 

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