As volunteer firefighters continue to face financial and mental health troubles, state lawmakers have endorsed a package of bills. If signed into law, these bills would provide tax relief, student loan assistance, Post Traumatic Stress Injury care, and more to first responders.
The legislators throughout Southeast Pennsylvania are throwing their weight behind these bills regardless of party. State Rep. Frank Farry (R-142), who also serves as chief of the volunteer Middletown-Langhorne Fire Company, has introduced or co-authored House Bills 269 and 1673.
H.B. 269 would create a Realty Transfer Tax exemption for the surviving spouse or child of a fallen first responder. This exemption would last for five years.
H.B. 1673 would allow fire companies to their funds on firefighter retention and training.
“One example is the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), a system established to provide tax-deferred income benefits to active volunteer members of a fire service,” Farry said of H.B. 1673. “Another is for the assistance and protection of volunteer firefighters in order to provide necessary training, as well as funding for recruitment and retention of volunteers.”
Both bills have bipartisan support, as State Rep. Tina Davis (D-141) has advocated for their passage. Meanwhile, State Rep. John Galloway (D-140) is supporting H.B. 1459.
The bill would create the Emergency Responder Mental Wellness and Stress Management Program. State Reps. Wendi Thomas (R-178) and Todd Polinchock (R-144) co-sponsored the bill with help from Farry.
These volunteers save Pennsylvanians billions each year, as a recent study placed the amount at $10 billion annually. But the number of volunteers in Pennsylvania has dropped drastically from a healthy 300,000 in the 1970s to less than 38,000 currently.
“This drop is attributed to requiring our volunteers to raise funds to pay for their own training, purchase equipment and maintain facilities,” said Polinchock, adding that it costs more than $28,000 to equip one firefighter with the proper equipment.
“We’re not adequately caring for volunteers when they suffer from the physical and mental stress caused by their responsibilities,” said Thomas, hence H.B. 1459.
Other bills on the docket include:
- H.B. 1786 – Create the First Responders Loan Forgiveness Program
- H.B. 1773 – Create the Tuition Assitance for Active Volunteers Program
- H.B. 1839 – Give counties the option to provide a property tax credit for active volunteers
Farry told WBCB News earlier this week he hopes the bills mentioned in this article pass the state House unanimously.