Fall of DOMA Shouldn’t Impact Employee Benefits
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional should not impact NMU employee benefits, according to Ann Sherman (Human Resources). Because all union contracts already include “spouse or designated individual” in the definition of immediate family for benefits ranging from funeral leave and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to PEIF recreation passes, no adjustments are required.
Northern also has a household member program in place that extends the university’s health care plan to an adult who has resided with the employee for at least 18 continuous months and is not a dependent, as defined by the IRS.
“Because we already had the designated individual and household member language, similar to other Michigan universities, we expect little to no change related to benefits,” said Sherman. “But we will continue to review our current policies to ensure compliance.”
One area that could be affected is student loans. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, students in same-sex marriages were considered unmarried for purposes of awarding federal student aid, so they did not have to report the income and assets of their spouses. That changes with the fall of the DOMA.
Including that income could reduce some students’ eligibility for aid, while counting spouses and all of a couple’s children in the household could increase it. This would not apply in Michigan, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, unless couples residing here were previously married in one of the 13 states where such unions are legal and now recognized by the federal government.
On a related note, The Chronicle also indicates that, two months prior to the DOMA ruling, the U.S. Education Department announced that in 2014 it will begin counting the income and assets of both parents who live together—regardless of marital status or gender—in determining financial aid eligibility of dependent students.