The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is urging Congress to pass legislation that would help protect and preserve retirement benefits for firefighters and emergency workers.
The Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020 (H.R. 8696), introduced by Reps. Richard Neal (D-MA) and Kevin Brady (R-TX), contains several provisions that could have major impacts on fire departments and firefighters.
One relates to pensions. In many states, volunteer fire departments have been hiring full-time firefighters and EMS personnel to cover ever-increasing call volumes. Since many volunteer fire departments are organized as 501(c)(3) entities, their paid staff cannot participate in local pension plans. H.R. 8696 would permit states to grant permission for these 501(c)(3)-employed firefighters to join a local government pension plan.
Another relates to disability retirement income. Firefighters forced to medically retire from their fire departments may receive payments from a disability pension. Under current tax law, these pension payments must be included with other income sources. H.R. 8696 would allow retirees to exclude payments from service-connected disability pensions when calculating their gross income.
Finally, there is a retirement penalty waiver for private firefighters. Under current tax law, there is a 10 percent early payment penalty for retirees who receive payments from their pension before reaching age 55. Firefighters employed by a governmental fire department only receive this 10 percent penalty if they receive payments before reaching age 50. But firefighters employed by private agencies do not qualify for this earlier retirement age. H.R. 8696 would allow privately-employed firefighters to qualify for the same protections as publicly-employed firefighters.