After at least two rejections by the city commission in past meetings, Wilton Manors will now offer employee health benefits related to gender reassignment surgery and procedures.
The change came Tuesday after Commissioner Julie Carson, who had unsuccessfully proposed the measure in the past, suggested the funding should be taken out of the reserve fund. It passed 3-2, with Mayor Gary Resnick and Vice Mayor Scott Newton voting against.
“I’ve been trying to find a way to make it work,” Carson said. She added that she understood the budget concerns but also wanted the benefits as a reflection of the city’s LGBT-friendly values. It was the fulfillment of a vow she made five months ago to not leave the T in LGBT behind. “I’ll make it work. I guarantee it,” she said in April.
So, she took inspiration from the recent decision by the commission to set aside $50,000 from the reserve fund for a train station. That money was used to show the officials in charge of the Tri-Rail commuter rail extension that the city was serious about having one of the stations located here. The money will act as a placeholder. If a station is approved, commissioners say they will take the money from another part of the budget or possibly use grant funding.
The ultimate hope by Carson and other commissioners is that federal law changes to make it mandatory for health insurance companies to cover the procedures.
The cost of the transgender benefits to the city is $33,000 and includes procedures that are considered medically-necessary. Hormone-replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery, for instance, would be included. The transgender benefit is an add on to the city’s existing employee healthcare plan but officials don’t have to include it right away.
“We can add this benefit anytime we want,” said Dio Sanchez, Human Resources director.
Sanchez said that no city employees have requested the benefits yet. That lack of need was one of the reasons the benefits had been denied in the past. “If nobody’s asking for it, I don’t understand that,” Newton said. Carson said that an employee, either needing the procedures for themselves or for their child, might not have the courage to ask.
Newton added that he was against spending $33,000 “for a maybe” and that even money taken from the reserve is money that can’t be used by taxpayers because it has been specifically set aside.
Commissioner Tom Green said the city has other reserve money to use in case it’s needed. Commissioner Justin Flippen said using reserves was a way to get the benefits without taxing residents.
Resnick said that the additional $33,000 would raise the cost of the insurance increase back to 15 percent after officials had worked to get it lowered.
Resident Michael Rajner, who has spoken out in favor of the benefits on multiple occasions, criticized commissioners against the transgender benefits for having health insurance provided by the city even though they’re only part-time employees.
He also said by not having transgender health benefits, the city is less inclusive and less attractive to talented transgender individuals looking to work for a municipality.