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Civil Union Benefits Change

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
February 18, 2009

The board of trustees’ human resources subcommittee, charged with addressing issues related to civil union benefits at UNH, has approved policy changes that will alter a portion of the recommendations of the University System president’s council.

First, the transition period during which same-sex partners can retain their benefits without entering a civil union was extended from June 30, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009. The original transition program would have required dropping medical coverage for any same-sex partners had not entered a civil union or been approved for a hardship exception by June 30.

The extension applies to current employees. Any new hires after June 30 will not be eligible for partner benefits except in the case of civil union, marriage, or approved hardship exception.

Specific criteria for the hardship will include residency in a state that does not provide for same-sex civil union or marriage, and other related hardships where an employee or his/her spouse/partner will lose a legal privilege or right due to sexual orientation.

Additionally, the subcommittee voted to ask the president’s council to advocate at the federal level to make marriage and civil unions equal under the tax law. Originally, because health care benefits are tax-free for married couples but not civil union couples, USNH proposed compensating people in civil unions to offset the imputed income tax burden.

With the change, the health care benefits for USNH employees in civil unions are not taxable; non-employees benefits are taxable.

“The president’s council cited the need for a strong message of equality in USNH benefit programs,” said Joan Tambling, USNH director of Human Resources.

Tambling said the trustees agreed with the goal of promoting equality and diversity in the workplace, however the subcommittee does not support overriding the federal tax policy as a means to achieve it.  

“The trustees’ subcommittee cited the concern that there are other tax policies which do not further USNH’s interests, such as the requirement for employees to pay tax on the value of graduate tuition benefits over $5250,” Tambling said. “They believe it is better to advocate for change in those laws rather than selectively override the impact of them and thus voted a resolution to engage in such advocacy for civil unions.”

In January 2008, a new law went into effect in New Hampshire providing individuals in civil unions with the "same rights, responsibilities, and obligations as married couples." Questions have been raised over the equity of the law if those in civil unions have to pay taxes on health benefits.

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