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President Dougan Praises New Rule Giving Health Care to Wildland Firefighters; Challenges Remain

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cory Bythrow, Communications Director
Phone: (202) 255-9950

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released the interim final rule extending health care benefits under the Federal Employee Health Benefit plan to temporary seasonal wildland firefighters and those with collateral firefighting duties. The regulation is effective immediately, meaning eligible employees can begin registering for the federal health plan as soon as they are able. The regulation does not, however, extend health coverage to thousands of other temporary employees in land management agencies, who also work in a series of seasonal appointments without health insurance or pension benefits.

 

In response to the interim rules release, NFFE National President William R Dougan issued the following statement:

 

“This is a great day for the thousands of temporary seasonal firefighters who have toiled season after season protecting our homes and communities without access to basic health insurance. Today, thousands of firefighters and their families no longer have to fear bankruptcy simply because they are sick, or injured.

 

We are immensely grateful to President Obama for tackling this historic injustice head-on and extending benefits to these brave individuals. When the American people spoke up and called for the change, the President not only listened, he took immediate action to address the problem. Without his leadership and that of OPM Director John Berry, these brave individuals would still be running headlong into fires without health insurance.

 

Today was a big leap forward for federal temporary seasonal firefighters, but our work is not done yet. President Obama has done everything in his power to address this problem and help these firefighters, but it will take an Act of Congress to fix the larger problem.  They are still classified as temporary employees.  Because of their temporary seasonal status, they must be sent home when their six months runs out, even if the fires are still blazing. The government ends up spending more, bringing in more expensive contractors and paying unemployment compensation to workers whose services are still required.  The employees end up spending more as well, as they must pay Cobra rates for their insurance during the off season. Congressional action will be required to enable these firefighters to be converted from temporary to permanent seasonal status, under which status their tours may be extended as needed.  NFFE is actively working with several Congressional offices on legislation to address the matter.

 

In addition, there remain thousands of other temporary seasonal employees who remain ineligible to participate in the federal health plan. These workers spend years – often decades – serving the public in a series of temporary appointments without benefits or even competitive standing to apply for permanent jobs. These workers deserve change as well, and we will continue working to make that happen.”

 

View the Regulation: http://www.ofr.gov/OFRUpload/OFRData/2012-17623_PI.pdf

Contact a Wildland Firefighter: Phone and email available upon request.

 

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