WASHINGTON – Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., on Wednesday introduced a bipartisan bill that would enable volunteer fire departments to more easily recruit and retain personnel.

“This bill fixes a long-running problem with the tax code that harms the ability of volunteer fire departments to recruit and retain firefighters,” Senator Collins said. “By treating length of service award plans fairly under the tax code, my bill would make it easier for departments to ensure that volunteer emergency personnel receive these sorts of benefits. Every day, these volunteers put their lives on the line to help protect our communities, and their spirit of selflessness should be rewarded, not penalized. I’m proud to introduce this legislation and will work to pass this bill through the Senate.”

Said Senator Dodd: “Many towns rely on volunteer fire departments to keep their residents safe – and in exchange for these volunteers’ selfless service, these towns often offer financial incentives to reward, recruit, and retain these brave first responders. By correcting a longtime tax code issue, this legislation will help maintain strong and well-staffed volunteer fire departments in Connecticut and across the country.”

Several states, including Maine and Connecticut, depend heavily upon the services of volunteer firefighters. The Collins-Dodd bill, the Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act, would make it easier for communities to provide modest financial incentives to emergency service volunteers as an effective recruitment and retention tool – without running into tax code problems.

For years, local and state governments have provided their volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel with benefits in different forms, including property tax relief, payment-per-call, and Length of Service Award Programs (LOSAPs), which are pension-like benefits for volunteer emergency responders. These financial incentives are designed to show a community’s appreciation for volunteer service and to help build and maintain a viable volunteer force.

Currently, nearly 20 percent of the 800,000 volunteer firefighters in the United States participate in some type of LOSAP. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the way that LOSAPs are treated under the tax code. Those difficulties have hindered departments’ abilities to administer the plans and for volunteer emergency personnel to receive the benefits.

The Collins-Dodd legislation would simplify the taxation of LOSAPs without increasing federal spending or reducing taxes.