Photo: Agencies such as the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department would benefit from the passage of a set of bills currently in the state Legislature. Forum Photo by Michael V. Cusenza
Lawmakers in Albany are considering a set of bills that would help members of volunteer fire departments and ambulance companies save money on taxes, receive greater and improved timely benefits, and gain access to new educational opportunities.
The first of five pieces of legislation, S.1000, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach), would provide for an automatic annual Cost of Living Adjustment to disability benefits received by volunteer firefighters. In 1998, the state Legislature raised the benefit level for firefighters with permanent total disabilities to a maximum of $400 a week regardless of their date of injury; this bill seeks to address inflation and aid disabled firefighters who are struggling to live on fixed incomes.
S.2727 would allow volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to receive both personal income tax credits of up to $200 and real property tax exemptions of up to $3,000 off the assessed value of their homes. In recent years, both the state and local governments have offered tax incentives for the express purpose of promoting volunteerism in the emergency services field, but volunteers have had to choose between personal income tax benefits or real property tax breaks. This legislation, according to Addabbo, would make volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers eligible for both programs.
Another bill, S.3126, would require the State University of New York trustees to develop guidelines for a service learning, internship or independent study program to enable volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to get academic credit for their activities through SUNY schools and community colleges. By combining community service and academic learning, the new program would help to encourage greater volunteerism, particularly among college students who might not otherwise have the time or opportunity to join a volunteer fire or ambulance company, such as the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department.
If signed into law, S.888 would require that death benefits provided to the surviving beneficiary of a volunteer firefighter or ambulance worker who died in the line of duty be paid out within 90 days of the filing of the benefits application. This will allow adequate time to determine the facts of the injury or death and would help to ensure that claims are processed more expeditiously.
And S.4149 would extend through June 2020 legislation that creates a presumption that certain lung diseases leading to the disability or death of firefighters were incurred in the performance of their duties.
“By creating incentives for volunteerism—whether through tax breaks or new learning opportunities—we will be able to build a more robust network of dedicated men and women who unselfishly give of their time and talents to serve others in their times of greatest need,” Addabbo said. “In addition, by helping to ensure adequate benefits for volunteer first responders who are injured or killed in the line of duty, we are showing respect for the most vital needs of some of our most dedicated community volunteers and their families. I thank all vollies for their efforts to secure the safety, health and well
being of others.”
S.4149 has been approved by both houses, and will soon go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his consideration. The other bills, each having passed the Senate, are under review in several Assembly committees, Addabbo indicated.
By Forum Staff