Pennsylvania state employees granted domestic partner benefits

Breaking news from the Philadelphia Gay News:

Pennsylvania state employees in same-sex relationships will now be able to obtain the same medical benefits for their partners as heterosexual married employees.

The Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund, a non-governmental agency that oversees the state benefits programs, will offer medical, prescription drug, dental, vision and hearing-aid benefits to the same- and opposite-sex domestic partners of all PEBTF-eligible employees, which amounts to about 81,000 individuals.

The approximately 60,000 retired state employees eligible for the Retired Employees Health Program will also be able to extend their benefits to domestic partners.

The policy change additionally allows children of domestic partners to be included on benefits plans.

This is great news!  I'm also reading that New Hampshire is set to pass a marriage equality bill making that 6 states (CT, IA, ME, MA, VT are the others).

We are in the midst of interesting times here in Pennsylvania.  Allegheny County is set to pass the anti-discrimination ordinance making domestic partner benefits for County employees the next pressing issue on that level.  The State Legislature is considering anti-discrimination language to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as well as hate crimes protections. 

Some nice news as we gear up for Pride month. 

“It was a matter of costing things out and making sure it was affordable but, putting that aside, this is something we should have done a while ago, and we’re glad we’re doing it now,” said Dave Fillman, chair of the PEBTF board of trustees. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Fillman noted that the domestic-partner policy will help the state recruit new workers interested in an employer that offers such benefits and assist Pennsylvania in retaining qualified employees.

“As with any benefit enhancement, we’re hoping that this will provide a benefit for someone who was considering state service that wasn’t provided before,” he said. “It’s pretty much a win-win for everyone.”

It is the right thing to do, both for the employee and their families as well as for the economic vitality of the Commonwealth.  Keep in mind, though, that it is not a complete win-win.  Employees must still pay income taxes on the benefits, unlike married employees.  This is still a barrier for many a family and the reason that the “separate but equal” approach to marriage equality is not acceptable.

The criteria are worth a look, too. 

To apply for the program, employees must submit three documents proving the relationship with their partner, which could include a domestic-partner certificate from a government agency, a property deed or lease or motor-vehicle title with both individuals’ names, drivers’ licenses with a common address, a joint bank account statement or documents proving that one individual has power-of-attorney rights or is the other’s life-insurance beneficiary.

This is more expansive that the City of Pittsburgh which requires shared utility bills and would not accept the drivers' licenses with a common address.  The economic barrier is troubling to me so I am glad that the Commonwealth takes a more reasonable approach to this evidentiary requirement.

Please note that this only applies to state employees.  Pennsylvania is not requiring every employer to provide domestic partner benefits, but this certainly strengthens the case for individual employers to elect to do so.




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