The Wally Bunker HELPS Retirees Improvement Act has been included in the end-of-year federal government funding bill.
The bipartisan package includes a total of $22.7 million for 15 projects sponsored by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, in each of the counties she represents, according to a release from the congresswoman’s office.
Named for a retired police officer living in Culpeper, the Wally Bunker Healthcare Enhancement for Local Public Safety Retirees Improvement Act will allow all retired police officers and firefighters to access a key tax benefit to pay for health coverage.
The measure removes a requirement that pension fund distributions go directly to the insurer to be eligible for tax-free status. The legislation ensures retired first responders can access a critical tax benefit to help cover health and long-term insurance.
He said the congresswoman and her staff quickly realized, when he brought the problem to them, that it was an issue that affected tens of thousands of retired public safety personnel nationwide.
“Rep. Spanberger shows that she is strongly committed to helping constituents deal with government bureaucracy.” Bunker said.
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“I am deeply indebted to her for her tenacity and team building with the FOP, other law enforcement fraternal organizations and members of Congress from both parties to see this to a successful conclusion.”
National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes expressed his thanks. Under current law, eligible retired public safety officers may use up to $3,000 per year from their qualified government retirement plan, on a pre-tax basis, to pay for health insurance or long-term care insurance premiums, he said.
But in order to get the pre-tax benefit, the money must be paid directly from their pension fund to a health or long-term care insurance company.
“This requirement has proved to be unworkable for far too many eligible public safety and its repeal will allow all officers to receive this benefit, because they will be able to make the payments themselves,” Yoes said in a statement.
General President International Association of Fire Fighters Edward A. Kelly said fire fighters work a dangerous and demanding job that can lead to them retiring before qualifying for Medicare.
“Our retirees living on a fixed income shouldn’t be penalized for their service by being forced to pay staggering amounts of money for health insurance,” he said. “The IAFF applauds Rep. Spanberger for her persistent leadership in expanding the HELPS program to assist our retired brother and sister fire fighters afford the healthcare services they need.”
Kelly said the association looked forward to working with Congress to develop a comprehensive solution to ensure retired fire fighters have access to affordable, high-quality health insurance.
“Our retired brothers and sisters have sacrificed their own health in service to others, and our nation owes it to fire fighters to ensure they keep the dignified and healthy retirement that they have earned,” he said.