UGA University Council approves domestic partner benefits; next stop, President Michael Adams

UGA moves closer to DP benefits

The University of Georgia’s University Council approved domestic partner benefits for employees yesterday, but the measure now goes to UGA President Michael Adams and implementation is far from assured.

Adams told the Athens Banner-Herald he wants to respond to the issue by the end of the academic year, but he needs to talk with the state Board of Regents, attorneys and financial advisers. 

“We’ll figure out a way to work through what [we] can,” said Adams, who also steps down at the end of the academic year, which is June 30, 2013.

The Board of Regents sets health insurance policy for all state colleges and universities and has previously refused to take-up domestic partner benefits. The UGA proposal, which originated with the campus staff LGBT group GLOBES, calls on UGA to pay for the health benefits from other funding if the Regents block it.

In addition to health insurance, the proposal also calls for domestic partners of employees to have access to the same voluntary benefits offered to spouses, including dental coverage, supplemental life insurance and accidental death or dismemberment insurance. Those benefits are paid for by employees.

The committee’s proposal notes that the voluntary benefits are on a level similar to those offered to domestic partners of employees at Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State University, Georgia Perimeter College, and Georgia Health Sciences University.

“What we are proposing is not radical or unusual at all,” Janet Frick, chair of the University Council’s Human Resources Committee, told GA Voice after a Sept. 13 committee vote on the benefits.

The proposal also states that 75 percent of UGA’s peer and aspirational institutions already offer benefits similar to those being proposed at UGA. Faced with the possibility that the statewide University System Board of Regents or the state legislature may take action to oppose UGA’s use of state funds to offer domestic partnership benefits, the proposal cites multiple examples of public universities elsewhere that have used other sources to fund such benefits.

The Universities of Florida, Arizona and Wyoming all have domestic partnership benefits which are funded by sources other than state funds.  University of Florida provides benefits using federal contracts, grants and discretionary funds from the University of Florida Foundation.   University of Arizona offers special plans not using state funds to provide such benefits for their employees.  

University of Wyoming employees are eligible to receive vouchers which match funds provided for opposite-sex spouses.  These vouchers are paid for using external research funding, most of which is federally funded.

Frick told the Red & Black, UGA’s independent student newspaper, that the health benefits would likely cost about $270,000 per year. According to the Athens Banner-Herald, that amounts to 0.5 percent of the cost currently paid for UGA employee health benefits.  

Frick told the student paper that the benefits could be paid for by discretionary funds or the university could give employees enrolling in domestic partner benefits $450 per month, which is what the university pays for health insurance for the spouse of an employee.

“There is a real, tangible cost of not having these benefits,” Frick told the Red & Black. “It’s not expensive, something we can do locally and the right thing to do.”

— Brian Smith contributed.