HEART Act Offers Tax Relief for Volunteer Firefighters, Emergency Responders

Volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel now have access to tax incentives to help them face the challenges of time-consuming training, high emergency call volumes and the struggle to balance career and family. The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2007, passed earlier this month by the U.S. House of Representatives, assists volunteer responders by excluding certain benefits and incentives from taxable income.

State and local governments often provide incentives for volunteer responders, including reduced property taxes, banquets, free municipal water and other benefits. The IRS began to count such volunteer incentives as taxable income in 2002. The HEART Act, however, would exclude property tax benefits from taxable income, as well as up to $360 per year of payments from state or local government to volunteer firefighters or emergency responders.

International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) President Chief Steven P. Westermann was pleased to learn that the bill had passed. “This is a good first step to protect state and local incentives for America’s hardworking firefighters and EMS personnel,” he said.

“This is good news for the volunteer fire service,” added Chief Tim Wall, chairman of Volunteer Chief Officer Section. “The commitment and timing of Rep. John Larson to work with the volunteer fire service is greatly appreciated and we look forward to working with Rep. Larson in the future to increase the $360 cap.”

Rep. John Larson D-Conn., and Sen. Christopher Dodd D-Conn., worked with the IAFC and other national fire service organizations on H.R. 943/S. 1466, the Volunteer Responder Incentive Act, which originally excluded all property tax rebates and other benefits from employment tax. The HEART Act is composed in part of a modified version of this bill.

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