NY Expands Jobless Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The New York Department of Labor has agreed to a policy change that will make more homosexuals eligible for state unemployment benefits when they relocate to be with their partners.

The policy change follows an appeal filed on behalf of Jeanne Newland, a lesbian who left her job in Rochester, N.Y., to move to Virginia with her partner.

According to the Empire State Pride Agenda, a homosexual advocacy group, Newland -- after nine months of searching for a job -- was urged by the local unemployment office to file for jobless benefits from the state of New York.

The Department of Labor denied Newland's request for benefits, even though it "regularly grants such benefits to married couples and occasionally to engaged couples in these circumstances," Empire State Pride Agenda noted in a press release.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an appeal on Newland's behalf last June, and the Empire State Pride Agenda said it raised the issue with Gov. Pataki -- after which the state's Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board agreed to reconsider its earlier decision denying Newland's request for benefits.

"We again thank the governor for asking the appeal board last year to reconsider its decision," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.

"The Department of Labor understands that love and commitment makes a family. We applaud the Department's decision to permanently change its policy to recognize that all New York families need to be supported by their government," he said in a press release.

"It was difficult struggling to get by on only one income, but it all seems worth it knowing that I have made a difference for other lesbian and gay couples who find themselves in the same position I was in," said Jeanne Newland in a statement issued by Empire State Pride Agenda.

The New York Department of Labor outlined its policy change in a letter to the appeal board, in which it asked the board to give Newland the benefits.

In the letter, the Department of Labor noted that, like married couples, unmarried couples in committed relationships may also have "good cause" for leaving a job to follow their partners, the Empire State Pride Agenda said.

The appeal board hasn't given Newland any money yet, but according to the Empire State Pride Agenda, it would be unusual for the appeal board to ignore the wishes of the Department of Labor.

People in same-sex relationships who relocate to be with their partners will have to provide proof of a "long-term committed relationship" when applying for New York unemployment benefits, ESPA said.

"We are very pleased that the Department of Labor has recognized that same-sex couples in committed relationships should not be discriminated against in unemployment insurance simply because they are not allowed to marry their partners," said James Esseks, litigation director for the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project.

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