Providing affordable housing to recruit our next generation of volunteer firefighters

Providing affordable housing to recruit our next generation of volunteer firefighters
© AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

America’s firefighters and other first responders put their lives on the line to protect us every single day. They run toward danger, step in to help save people’s lives and livelihoods, and protect our communities from disasters of all kinds. And nationally, more than two-thirds of those brave men and women do this incredible work as volunteers. Those volunteer firefighters are concentrated in smaller towns and rural areas — with more than 95 percent of them in departments that protect fewer than 25,000 people.

In fact, more than 92 percent of Iowa’s 850 fire departments operate using volunteer firefighters — nine of every 10 in Iowa’s 16,000 person firefighting force. In Wisconsin, 92.5 percent of the 762 fire departments operate fully or mostly with volunteers — putting both states above the national average of fire departments staffed by volunteers.

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But over the past few years, these volunteer departments have struggled to find qualified people to fill these ranks — especially in rural areas. In towns with fewer than 2,500 residents, more than a third of all the volunteer firefighters are over the age of 50.

And so, we’ve written bipartisan legislation to help volunteer fire departments across our country recruit and retain new volunteers by helping them keep a roof over their head.

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 voluntarily to put their lives on the line to protect their fellow Americans.

The Volunteer First Responder Housing Act would expand access for two existing federal housing programs for qualified firefighters and emergency medical services 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.

The USDA program helps lenders provide loans to low- or moderate-income households in rural areas. Our bill would allow qualified first responders to deduct $18,000 from their incomes for the purposes of eligibility.     

HUD’s program gives discounts on homes owned by HUD in certain revitalization areas, and my bill would ensure that volunteer firefighters and EMS can qualify for those discounts. By giving our volunteers new ways to access safe and affordable housing, this commonsense legislation will help our departments recruit the next generation of firefighters and EMS and help those who are already working day and night to protect our families and neighbors.

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This bill has the support of Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress, and we’re grateful to our colleagues — Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill  On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Senators huddle on path forward for SALT deduction in spending bill MORE (D-Mont.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Senate dodges initial December crisis with last-minute deal GOP ramps up attacks on SALT deduction provision MORE (R-W.Va.) and Kevin CramerKevin John CramerMcConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Advocates see pilot program to address inequalities from highways as crucial first step The Memo: Rising costs a growing threat for Biden MORE (R-N.D.), and Reps. Mike BostMichael (Mike) J. BostMORE (R-Ill.), Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasProviding affordable housing to recruit our next generation of volunteer firefighters Republicans divided on how hard to push vaccines On The Money: Schumer pressured from all sides on spending strategy | GOP hammers HUD chief over sluggish rental aid | Democrat proposes taxes on commercial space flights MORE (R-Okla.) and Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinThree dead, six wounded in Michigan school shooting Taiwan says it is capable of responding to repeated Chinese military missions Five House members meet with Taiwanese president despite Chinese objections MORE (D-Mich.) — for helping lead this legislation this Congress.

Since our first days in Congress, we’ve worked to support our first responders — and we are so grateful for everything our law enforcement officials, firefighters, EMS and all first responders have done for our communities, especially throughout the pandemic. These folks work tirelessly day in and day out and they deserve access to the resources they need to continue keeping our communities, our children and our nation safe.

Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneOn The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House Democrats call on leaders to pass supply chain legislation Top House Democratic group launches six-figure ad campaign to sell infrastructure package MORE represents Iowa’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE represents Wisconsin in the United States Senate.