Only in California
While other cities are slashing employee benefits, Berkeley is slated to add one more: paying for sex-change operations.
The City Council is poised to vote tonight to set aside $20,000
annually for city workers' gender-reassignment surgery. The procedure
is not covered by the city's two health insurance providers, Kaiser and Health Net.
"We offer all kinds of benefits to our employees. This brings our
benefits in line with what's just and fair for the transgender
community," said City Councilman Darryl Moore, who originally proposed the idea in 2007.
The benefit would allow employees to collect the money before the
operation. To receive the payout, employees would have to have lived as
the opposite sex for at least one year and undergone hormone therapy.
They also would have to have worked for the city at least a year.
The city would dole out the $20,000 on a first-come, first-served
basis. The money would not accrue from year to year; it would stay
indefinitely at $20,000.
The amount should cover at least part of the surgery costs, which
range from $7,000 to more than $50,000, according to surgery and
transgender information websites.
The city initially asked its two health insurance providers to
include sex-change surgery in their coverage for city employees. But
Kaiser doesn't provide the service, and Health Net said premiums for the
entire staff would increase substantially if sex-change operations were
So the city decided to provide payment to employees directly.
"I support the staff's solution here," City Councilman Gordon
Wozniak said. "It's not a lot of money to set aside for something that's
rarely going to happen."
The city has about 1,500 employees, and at least a few have recently inquired about sex-reassignment surgery, Moore said.
Some Berkeley residents oppose the idea, saying the city should be
spending more time and money on basic services, such as road repair.
"How come I'm paying for this?" said Ann Slaby, a former zoning
commissioner. "There might be some people who really need this, but
right now my street badly needs paving."
Compared to other cities, Berkeley has been spared the worst of the
recession. Its housing market remains mostly stable, and the council has
not inflicted the drastic cuts experienced in neighboring communities.
It will also dodge the hardship of losing redevelopment funds, because
the city rarely relies on that money.
Still, Berkeley has its share of financial woes. A hiring freeze
continues at City Hall, and taxes and fees continue to inch up. The
council is having a special meeting today on its unfunded pension
liability, which is $252 million, according to a report by the city
Berkeley isn't the first city to offer sex-change surgery to its workers. San Francisco started offering the benefit in 2001.
"We're later than San Francisco, but we still try to be on the
forefront of policies to promote people's understanding of same-sex
issues," said City Councilman Max Anderson. "It's OK if it's
controversial. We're willing to push the envelope a little bit."
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