USF should not create domestic partner benefits

USF may start offering domestic partner benefits to employees as early as this academic year, but now is not the time to implement a costly program that will only affect a small number of people.

USF President Judy Genshaft announced a plan Sept. 9 to offer benefits to same-sex and heterosexual couples.

While many have praised this plan, it is still unclear how it will be financed. After the University of Florida extended domestic partner benefits to its employees three years ago, the state Legislature passed a bill prohibiting state universities from using state funds to finance that kind of program.

While UF was able to use other funds to finance the benefits package, USF may not be able to do so, especially in this economy. It would cost the University an estimated $500,000 annually, said Sandy Lovins, associate vice president for the Office of Human Resources.

Without access to state funds, the University will likely have to use auxiliary funds, which come from vending machines, concessions from sports games and other sources. However, these will not be enough, said Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith.

“Funding for (the benefits package) will draw largely from auxiliary funds,” Smith said. “And there’s just not an auxiliary fund that has that kind of money on an annual basis.”

Funding the package would be another burden on the University, which is already suffering from economic cutbacks, and only a very small portion of USF employees would actually benefit from the program. The cost of the program outweighs its benefit to the University.

The national estimate for eligible employees who will use the benefits is 1 percent, said University spokesman Michael Hoad.

For a couple to be eligible, one member must be a full-time USF employee, and the other can’t receive benefits from another job. Couples will also have to provide proof of a domestic partnership, such as a joint bank account.

Even if the program can be funded, USF may still run into trouble with eligibility requirements. Under UF’s original benefits package, couples had to sign an affidavit swearing that they had been “in a non-platonic relationship for the preceding 12 months,” the Gainesville Sun said.

Many saw this as an invasion of privacy and questioned how UF would enforce the requirement to have sex. Though the requirement was implemented to ensure only actual couples would qualify, it was quickly removed.

The incident raises an important question that USF might have trouble answering: Are the benefits only intended for legitimate couples who either can’t marry or choose not to, or can any two people living together qualify?

Because of the difficulty to implement the package and the high cost, the University should not offer domestic partner benefits.