The Timberjay

By Jodi Summit

REGIONAL— Minnesota’s U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, along with Sen. Ted Budd, a North Carolina Republican recently introduced legislation to support volunteer drivers. This bill is a companion to the U.S. House bill, H.R. 3032, introduced last spring by Minnesota Reps. Pete Stauber and Angie Craig to make it easier for volunteer drivers to provide millions of rides and home-delivered meals.

This bill would help eliminate the federal tax penalty, created after a 2017 change in federal law, that meant that volunteer driver mileage reimbursement income above $600 was taxed like regular employment income.

The Volunteer Driver Tax Appreciation Act of 2023 (S. 3020) would raise the amount of mileage reimbursement that volunteers can claim as exempt from federal taxes from 14 cents per mile to 65.5 cents per mile to match the current business rate.

“We are grateful to Sens. Klobuchar, Budd and Smith for recognizing the critical role volunteer drivers play,” says Beverly Sidlo-Tolliver, transportation coordinator with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission and co-chair of the Volunteer Driver Coalition. “This bill is a simple but powerful way to ensure people in our communities have better access to transportation, meals and healthcare.”

In Minnesota alone, volunteers provide an estimated 168,000 rides for older adults and non-drivers each year, covering more than 9.5 million miles. Organizations with volunteer driver programs are challenged to recruit and retain volunteers due to rising insurance rates and tax requirements. Increasing the charitable mileage reimbursement rate will more accurately reflect the actual costs of driving a personal vehicle for charitable purposes and keep more volunteer drivers on the road.

“Volunteer drivers are vital to rural communities across our state, helping seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and others access necessities like meals and health care,” said Klobuchar. “By increasing the charitable mileage tax deduction rate, this legislation will help reduce the financial burden on volunteer drivers and ensure they can continue to serve their communities.”

After the 2017 change in the law, the Arrowhead Transit’s volunteer driver program lost about two-thirds of its volunteer drivers, from a high of 300 to a current group of 103. The drivers work for a nonprofit program that transports rural seniors to and from non-emergency medical appointments at no charge.

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.