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Recently, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate introduced legislation to expand housing benefits for volunteer fire and EMS personnel. The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act (S. 2316/H.R. 4377) is meant to recognize the service that volunteers provide to their communities and provide recruitment and retention incentives. 

Specifically, this legislation would make volunteer fire and EMS personnel eligible to qualify for a loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program (SFHGLP). The SFHGLP is a program administered by the USDA, which provides 90% guaranteed loans to approved lenders for individuals seeking to purchase a primary home in certain rural areas. The USDA currently restricts participation in the SFHGLP program to individuals below a certain income level based on a geographical region. The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would permit eligible volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel to deduct $18,000 from their income when determining their eligibility for SFHGLP participation. 

Volunteer fire and EMS personnel also would be eligible for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Good Neighbor Next Door (GNND) program. Under this program, individuals employed as law enforcement officers, teachers, firefighters, or EMS personnel are eligible for a discount of up to 50% off the list price of certain homes in return for living in the eligible property for at least 36 months. Current GNND policies require eligible participants to be employed in one of the professions listed above. The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would permit volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel to qualify for participation in the HUD’s GNND program. 

To qualify for the SFHGLP or GNND programs, the legislation requires a volunteer to submit a letter from their agency’s head affirming that they have either met the minimum requirements for membership in their respective agency for two years or that they have contributed at least 200 hours of service per year for the previous two years. Volunteers seeking to participate in these programs also must include copies of their certification by the state or locality as a firefighter and/or EMS provider. For the GNND program, the volunteer also would have to certify a “good faith intention” to stay as a volunteer for the year following the closing date.  

The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act (S. 2316/H.R. 4377) was introduced by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-MN) and Representative Cynthia Axne (D-IA). Both bills have bipartisan support.   

Ken LaSala is the IAFC’s Director of Government Relations & Policy. 

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