WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (R-Iowa) introduced legislation to give volunteer firefighters and first responders access to affordable housing programs in order to help fire departments recruit and retain more volunteers.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would expand access to two existing federal housing programs for qualified firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Good Neighbor Next Door Sales Program – in order to improve recruitment and retention for volunteer departments.
“Iowa’s communities are protected every single day by our volunteer firefighters. Iowans look to these brave men and women to protect their homes, their health, and in times like we’ve seen recently, to help in the face of public health emergencies and natural disasters,” Axne said. “Federal housing agencies already have programs in place to help provide affordable housing – and as our firehouses look to recruit the next generation of volunteers, it is only right that we expand that assistance to include those who volunteer to put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Iowans.”
The legislation will be introduced in the House with U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, R-Ill., Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.
The legislation will be introduced in the Senate with U.S. Senators Shelly Moore-Capito, R-WVa., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
Axne’s office in her press release said that departments across the country are experiencing difficulty when recruiting the next generation of volunteers – especially in communities smaller than 2,500, where one of every three firefighters is over the age of 50.
Her office also states over 90 percent of Iowa’s 16,000 firefighters are volunteers, and 92 percent of the 850 fire departments in the state are volunteer.
The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would allow qualified first responders to deduct $18,000 from their incomes for the purposes of eligibility.
The USDA Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program helps lenders provide loans to low or moderate income households in rural areas.
The expanded access included in this legislation for the Good Neighbor Next Door program would also give discounts on homes owned by HUD in certain revitalization areas to volunteer firefighters and EMS.
The bill has the support of the National Volunteer Fire Council, National Rural Housing Coalition, National Association of Towns and Townships, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and National Association of Counties.