December 19, 2014
Ithaca, NY 26°F | Clouds

News

College returns benefits to same-sex couples

As the April 15 Internal Revenue Service tax-filing deadline approaches, Ithaca College professors and staff members in same-sex marriages will, for the first time, not have to pay income taxes on the college-sponsored health care plan they share with their same-sex spouses, as the result of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013.

The landmark decision recognized same-sex marriages at the federal level, meaning legally wed same-sex couples are eligible for hundreds of benefits that had been reserved for opposite-sex married couples since 1996. Among those benefits, the IRS can no longer tax the health care benefits employees receive through their employers and share with their same-sex spouses.

College employees impacted by the ruling can file with the IRS to claim tax money they paid on health care coverage for 2010, 2011 and 2012, according to IRS rules. Mark Coldren, associate vice president for human resources, said in an email the college will offer help in any form employees may require it.

“We are in the process of contacting individuals impacted to see if we can provide assistance,” Coldren said.

Luca Maurer, LGBT education, outreach and services program director, said though he does not share a health care plan with his spouse, he is happy the college is proactively contacting employees with same-sex spouses who do.

“I am very pleased that his office said they would be contacting the affected people because I’m not sure if everybody understands they can file an amended return and get money due to them,” Maurer said.

Same-sex married couples can only submit refund claims from as far back as 2010 because amended forms can be turned in no more than three years from the date the return was filed, according to the IRS website. The IRS published a press release on Aug. 29, 2013, with steps for same-sex couples to claim refunds. Taxpayers wishing to file refund claims are instructed to use Form 1040X, which is the document for amended individual income tax returns.

Maurer said he was glad the college will act as a resource for employees should they have questions when filing the paperwork.

“This is a busy time of year on campus,” Maurer said. “So people may be busy with other things on their minds and not really thinking about their taxes from last year or two, three years ago.”

The City of Ithaca is also working to retroactively return tax money paid by same-sex married employees. City Attorney Ari Lavine said his office would work to get money back for any former employees who may be affected.

“We think it’s crucial as a matter of justice for everyone in this country, but particularly for the employees who are affected here,” Lavine said. “It’s also important as a matter of financial impact for these particular employees. But, first and foremost, we just think it’s the right thing to do.”

Lavine said because the effort to file amended individual employee taxable income information with the IRS is minimal on the part of the employer, he hopes local businesses will follow the city’s example.

“We are very much encouraging other employers in the area and far beyond to take this same step for their employees,” he said.

Kristin Letourneau, a therapeutic recreation specialist with the Ithaca Youth Bureau, has worked for the city for 20 years. She was legally married to her same-sex partner in Canada in 2004. Letourneau said in a statement from the city that she was constantly reminded of the unequal treatment she received in the past.

“My federal government viewed and treated me and my family as different and unequal to my fellow opposite-sex married co-workers,” Letourneau said. “As a result, the federal government imposed extra taxes, which were taken from each of my paychecks consistently — money that I had earned side by side with my co-workers as civil service employees. This practice was discriminatory and unfair.”

A 2007 study by the Center for American Progress found married employees with same-sex partners paid an average of $1,069 per year more than their opposite-sex counterparts. The city’s initiative gives Letourneau the chance to reclaim some of the money she lost.

“Today, one decade later, the leadership of this country has the opportunity to do what is fair and right and return these taxes it took to those who properly earned this money,” Letourneau said.