WASHINGTON, D.C.- When a change in federal tax law in 2017 meant that the mileage reimbursements over $600 per year received by volunteer drivers were taxed like regular employment income, the …
WASHINGTON, D.C.- When a change in federal tax law in 2017 meant that the mileage reimbursements over $600 per year received by volunteer drivers were taxed like regular employment income, the Arrowhead Transit’s volunteer driver program lost nearly two hundred of its three hundred volunteer drivers. The drivers work for a nonprofit program that transports rural seniors to and from non-emergency medical appointments at no charge. Volunteers are not paid for their time but do receive the federal mileage reimbursement for miles driven.
Such mileage payments, which are common for business or government travel while using a private vehicle, are typically not taxed, since it is considered a reimbursement for costs associated with driving (gas, maintenance, depreciation).
Last week Arrowhead Transit Director Brandon Nurmi, and Associate Director of Finance Colette Hanson were in Washington, D.C. lobbying for tax relief for volunteer drivers in the country. They had the opportunity to speak with several legislators on this topic and advocate for reform in the 1099 tax requirements of volunteer drivers.
A proposed bill, introduced last April, is currently advancing through the legislative process, and has received bipartisan support from a diverse coalition of representatives, stakeholders, and citizens.
The primary impetus behind this legislative endeavor came from two U.S. House members from Minnesota— Eighth District Republican Pete Stauber and Second District Democrat Angie Craig.
During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Nurmi emphasized the profound significance of this proposed legislation. “This bill represents a clarion call to alleviate the financial strain on our dedicated volunteer drivers. They are the lifeblood of our rural transportation system, ensuring that individuals can access vital medical appointments. We implore our legislators to rally behind this cause and make their selfless contributions more sustainable.”
Hanson agreed, and spoke further about the profound human connections forged through volunteer driving. “These drivers are not mere providers of a service— they are cultivators of trust, companionship, and enablers of independent living within our community.”
Currently, Arrowhead Transit counts approximately 103 committed volunteer drivers, tasked with providing essential transportation services across ten northeastern Minnesota counties. This shortfall exacerbates the challenge of delivering comprehensive transportation options for residents, particularly in regions where public transit infrastructure remains limited.
Advocates assert that, beyond alleviating the tax burden on volunteer drivers, the bill carries wider ramifications for the community at large. By making it easier for individuals to step forward and assist their neighbors, it has the potential to keep residents in their homes, reducing the necessity for costly assisted living facilities or the necessity of moving to an urban area with better transportation options.
Elected representatives who have pledged their bipartisan support for the bill firmly believe that it marks a pivotal stride toward fortifying rural communities.
In a statement of support, Rep. Craig spoke about the far-reaching benefits of the proposed bill. “This legislation transcends mere tax relief— it is an investment in the very health and well-being of our cherished rural communities. Volunteer drivers are the unheralded champions, and they deserve every iota of support we can muster.”
Dominick Olivanti, public relations coordinator for Arrowhead Transit, said the program had also worked on a pilot program to get college students at Minnesota North- Mesabi to spend time as volunteer drivers, but the 1099 requirement meant it was costing these students more than they received in mileage reimbursement, since it bumped up their total income. The vast majority of these volunteer drivers are retired seniors, and many of those were financially impacted by the change that required 1099 reporting. “We need to fix this,” he said.
For more information on the Arrowhead Transit programs, or to learn how to become a volunteer driver, contact Dominick Olivanti at 218-735-6815 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on Arrowhead Transit and their services are available at www.arrowheadtransit.com.
Northwoods Partners, based in Ely, also provides volunteer driver services in the Tower, Soudan, Ely, and Babbitt areas. They can be reached at (218) 365-8019 or by email at email@example.com.
More on the volunteer driver program
Arrowhead Transit is a transportation company that contracts with medical assistance providers. The contracts allow Arrowhead Transit to provide coordination and schedule non-emergency transportation for clients.
What do volunteer drivers do? Volunteer drivers provide individuals in need of transportation with a means of getting to and from medical appointments.
Who qualifies to be a volunteer driver? Anyone who is:
• Age 21 or older.
• Has a valid driver’s license.
• Has proof of insurance.
• Has a clean driving record.
• Has not had a revoked or suspended license or DWI
within the past 3 years.
• Has had no felony convictions.
What type of insurance coverage must a volunteer driver have? A volunteer driver is required to provide enough insurance to allow them to drive legally in the state of Minnesota.
What type of vehicle can be used? The vehicle must be safe, dependable, and clean. Volunteer drivers use all different types of vehicles from small subcompacts to large SUVs.
How can you become a volunteer driver? Contact Transportation Advocate Randy Hokkanen at (218)735-6873 or firstname.lastname@example.org.