Domestic Partner Benefits

Friday - 7/17/2009, 4:00am EDT

Gay and straight feds and retirees at Justice, Interior, GSA, OPM, Defense and all other agencies are asking when their agencies will extend the limited domestic partner benefits that have been okayed for Foreign Service staffers at the State Department.

The short answer is that it will be awhile, maybe quite awhile before State's proposal, announced in June, will be adopted by other federal agencies or extended to the thousands of State Department employees who are under the civil service system.

There is also pressure on agencies with overseas components, Agriculture, Justice, Homeland Security to name a few, to get with State's program.

There is also a lot of misunderstanding, in the media and within the government itself as to what the changes will mean. When the program was announced for FS staffers, one major TV news operation said that the domestic partners of gay and straight FS staffers at State could be covered by the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. Not so.

Many of the best features of federal employment, such as lifetime inflation-indexed retirement benefits and lifetime health insurance, are set by law. Under current rules, individuals may provide a partial survivor benefit, known as an "Insurable Interest Annuity", to someone other than a spouse.

The FEHBP is considered one of, if not the best, health plan in the nation. It is open to active and retired federal workers (including current and former members of Congress and presidents). The program offers more than 250 plans, many of them local HMOs. The government pays more than 70 percent of the premium on average and individuals can't be turned down, or charged more, because of age, health or pre-existing medical conditions.

The Obama administration has gone on record as favoring domestic partner benefits government-wide. But Congress, not the White House, State or OPM, decides who is eligible for all-important perqs such as health insurance and survivor benefits which now make the surviving spouse eligible for lifetime federal health insurance.

Another sticky issue for State is persuading certain key (as in oil-rich) countries to honor diplomatic passports issued to domestic partners. In other nations, the issue could be whether the partner is allowed to work in the host country.

So what can, and is, the State Department doing? Here's their list of "additional benefits and allowances for declared same-sex domestic partners of eligible employees serving overseas."

They include:

  • Diplomatic passports,
  • Inclusion on employee travel orders to and from posts abroad,
  • Shipment of household effects,
  • Inclusion in family size calculations for the purpose of making housing allocations,
  • Family member preference for employment at posts abroad,
  • Use of medical facilities at posts abroad,
  • Medical evacuation from posts abroad,
  • Emergency travel for partners to visit gravely ill or injured employees and relatives,
  • Inclusion as family members for emergency evacuation from posts abroad,
  • Subsistence payments related to emergency evacuation from posts abroad,
  • Inclusion in calculations of payments of overseas allowances (e.g., payment for quarters, cost of living, and other allowances),
  • Representation expenses, and
  • Training at the Foreign Service Institute.

State said it will "also work with foreign governments to provide same-sex domestic partners, to the extent possible, with diplomatic visas, privileges and immunities, and authorization to work in the local economy. "

Nearly Useless Factoid
by Suzanne Kubota

Health conscious California owns the most spots on delish.com's Top 10 Most Unusual State Fair Foods. The three finds from the midway making the list are the fried frog's legs, fried avocado bites, and the Krispy Kreme chicken sandwich (a fried chicken patty topped with Swiss cheese, tucked inside a sliced Krispy Kreme Original Glazed doughnut with a side of Smucker's honey sauce.) What, no bacon?

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com