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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Some credit unions aren’t waiting for the insurance industry or government to figure out how to handle same-sex domestic partnerships from a benefits standpoint. Credit unions are waking up to the need to offer insurance packages for domestic partners, and they’re not alone. According to a recent Mellon Financial report some 35% of employers nationwide have opted to offer domestic partner benefits. Credit union human resources experts agree that while the domestic partner benefit may not be the right fit for every credit union, it may be something they may want to consider. “I think before you introduce such a plan you need to be clear about the culture you are operating in and make sure that all your ducks are lined up so to speak,” said Micheal Hiller CUNA HR/Training & Development Council chair and vice president of administration at Palo Alto,California-based Stanford Federal Credit Union. “It is also very telling to see what other companies in your market are doing. It may give your credit union a competitive edge.” For Albany, New York-based Capital Communications Federal Credit Union incorporating the benefit in 2001 was just a matter of adding a rider to its existing medical and dental policies. To further stand out from the competition, Capital Communications FCU’s domestic partner benefit covers both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. According to Capital Communications FCU HR Associate Nancy Durivage the move was not just a competitive advantage but also a way to ensure that the single employees who are also in a committed relationship yet not married don’t feel they are being “penalized” or excluded. Hiller agrees that it can give credit unions a recruitment boost as it was in the case at Stanford FCU seven years ago. Hiller says at the time they started to offer the domestic partner package it was in the middle of the dot-com boom and businesses were looking for any advantage to offer to people and at the time it was a big issue in the Bay area. “The cost to do it was negligible to the bottom line because of the nature of most domestic relationships,” said Hiller, noting that typically both partners work, so the coverage would likely only be for one of the partners. In general, the advantages in attracting a skilled work force far outweighs the modest numbers of workers who actually sign up for the coverage. “It is one of the nice benefits a credit union can offer,” said Durivage. “We were named one of the top 10 employers here and I think ultimately this benefit which has been a big part of our compensation package, will help with recruiting.” Wanting to offer healthcare coverage for domestic employees at Ithaca, New York-based Alternatives Federal Credit Union proved to be a challenge HR Manager Sharon Kinnan was up to. “It is just part of our mission that we don’t discriminate based on class, race or sexual orientation and we’ve always made sure that domestic partners can be listed as beneficiaries and that same sex couples get the same time off for adoption as our heterosexual couples. It is just who we are and what we stand for as a credit union,” said Kinnan. When it became clear that the credit union could not add a domestic partner rider to its current health insurance offerings since it had under 50 employees, Kinnan created a separate policy that would allow the credit union to pay for the premium for a partner equal to what it pays an individual insurance premium. The challenge is that it had to be taxed as taxable income to the employee but Kinnan said it was something the credit union felt it needed to do and it took on that expense. To be eligible, the employee has to be employed with Alternatives FCU for two years and the couple must be registered with the City of Ithaca as domestic partners. “It is frustrating because New York passed a law that employers can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation in employment yet they don’t require health insurance companies to provide coverage,” said Kinnan. “The major complaint from the health insurance companies is that it costs too much.” Kinnan says despite the policy coverage it is still expensive to the domestic partner. For example, even though the credit union will pay let’s say $200 the partner would still have to foot the remaining $200. “It is not perfect but it is the best we could come up with until we are over 50 employees,” said Kinnan. “Because we do specify that we created this policy for same sex partners we make sure that employees understand that we aren’t taking benefits away from anyone but rather are providing benefits to staffers who wouldn’t have health coverage otherwise. And our employee reaction really has been totally positive.” Kinnan says creating your own policy is not as hard as credit unions may think and there are a number of organizations available to help. “I will say that you shouldn’t wait until there is a need to create this policy,” said Kinnan. “Create it because it is appropriate to have such a policy in place.” [email protected]

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