919 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
phone 202 628 4160
fax 202 347 5323
D.C. DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM
In 1992, the District of Columbia City Council passed the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act. This Act was signed by Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and became law after the Congressional review period. The D.C. Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 has three main components:
- Requires all health care facilities in the District, including hospitals, convalescent facilities, or other long- term care facilities, to allow domestic partners visitation rights at their facilities.
- Creates a program that allows domestic partners in the District of Columbia to register as such with the Mayorís office.
- Allows registered domestic partners, if one of them is an employee of the District of Columbia government, to purchase health insurance at their own expense for their domestic partner. Also allows employees of the District of Columbia to take sick leave to care for a domestic partner or bereavement leave to make the funeral arrangements for a domestic partner.
This Act defines "domestic partner" as: a person with whom an individual shares a familial relationship characterized by mutual caring and the sharing of a mutual residence. Both parties of a domestic partnership must be at least 18 years of age and competent to contract, must not be married, and must have only one domestic partner. This definition encompasses many familial relationships, such as a grandmother and mother living together raising children, a person with a disability and their live-in care provider, and unmarried partners, both heterosexual and gay and lesbian, including seniors who may not be able to marry for economic reasons.
Each year since 1992, Congress has added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibits the use of Federal or local funds to implement the DC Health Care Benefits Expansion Act, even though it is an extremely limited version of what over one hundred jurisdictions across the country have implemented:
SEC. 124 of the FY 2001 DC Appropriations bill
None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to implement or enforce the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 (D.C. Law 9-114; D.C. Code, sec. 36-1401 et seq.) or to otherwise implement or enforce any system of registration of unmarried, cohabiting couples (whether homosexual, heterosexual, or lesbian), including but not limited to registration for the purpose of extending employment, health, or governmental benefits to such couples on the same basis that such benefits are extended to legally married couples.
It is time to remove this anti-local control and anti-public health rider from the District of Columbia appropriations bill and allow implementation of the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992:
- 113 jurisdictions nationwide, including cities as diverse Atlanta, Albany, Chicago, New Orleans, and Scottsdale, AZ all have domestic partnership benefits in place that are much more comprehensive than the limited program included in the Districtís Health Care Benefits Expansion Act. In addition, many cities, such as New York City and Los Angeles, have programs that are actively supported by GOP Mayors. Congress has taken no action to block any of the domestic partnership benefits provided by over one hundred jurisdictions throughout the nation. Yet the District of Columbia is still prohibited from funding the inexpensive and very limited Health Care Benefits Expansion Act almost ten years after its initial passage.
- The Society for Human Resource Management found in a 1997 survey that 85 percent of respondents, both public and private, reported no increase in their health care costs because of their domestic partner benefits programs. Because the domestic partnership program created by the District law is so much more limited than that of other cities, and participating employees must purchase health insurance at their own expense, the cost to the District for this program is negligible.
- As more employers institute fair workplace policies, employees have options for choosing an inclusive work environment. Employers that offer domestic partner benefits are at a competitive advantage in recruiting job applicants. A 1999 survey in Human Resources Management ranked domestic partner benefits as the most effective recruiting incentive for executives and the third most effective recruiting incentive for managers and line workers. Further, the U.S. Census Bureau found that in 2000, there were 601,209 same-sex unmarried partner household in the United States, which is a 314% increase from 1990. If one goal of an employee benefits plan is to provide a safety net so employees can focus on work, employers that do not provide benefits to domestic partners are ignoring a growing portion of the work force.
- The fair and open recognition of diversity in the workplace contributes to employee satisfaction and performance. An employee who is able to be open about his/her sexual orientation and family life will spend less time trying to hide his/her identity and be more productive at work and better able to participate in team projects. A high rate of turnover is clearly detrimental to any employer. Some studies have put the cost of recruiting a new employee as high as $75,000.
- Over 4,200 employers around the country, including hundreds of cities and colleges and universities, have established domestic partnership health programs. A list of these firms includes some household names in American commerce including Boeing, AT&T, Citigroup, and IBM. A total of 145 of the Fortune 500 companies (almost 30%) provide domestic partner benefits, and that number has doubled in the past three years. In June 2000, the nationís three largest automakers, General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, announced that they would provide domestic partner health benefits to their 466,000 employees. All of these companies understand the benefits of offering these programs in todayís competitive work environment.
- The most recent census found that there are 3,678 unmarried gay and lesbian partner households in the District of Columbia, which is a 66% increase from 1990 and represents the highest percentage of same-sex partner households in the country. In addition, there are 11,208 unmarried heterosexual households in the District, an 18% increase over 1990. All of these households exist and pay taxes in the District of Columbia and could benefit from at least part of this modest law.
The Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 is a common-sense limited law that costs the District little to implement. Congress should respect local control in this area, as it has for so many other cities, and allow the District to use local funds to implement this law.