- Posted byon December 16, 2013 at 3:46 PM EST
Ed. Note: This blog is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of the Tresaury.
The Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor last June, invalidating a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, has given rise to crucial protections to same-sex married couples nationwide. In August, Treasury and IRS helped to clarify the federal tax implications of Windsor by determining that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes. Today, Treasury and IRS made significant progress in further promoting tax equality by issuing a new, related notice.
In follow-up to the Windsor decision, this notice addresses how the rules for cafeteria plans, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and health savings accounts (HSAs) apply to individuals with same-sex spouses. A cafeteria plan provides participants with an opportunity to receive certain benefits on a pre-tax basis. Similar to the way in which individuals can choose among several options in a cafeteria, cafeteria plan participants can choose among at least one taxable benefit and one qualified benefit.
Taxpayers typically must make pre-tax elections under a cafeteria plan before the beginning of the plan year and cannot change their elections until the following year. Because the Windsor decision was issued mid-year, this notice permits changes to elections for same-sex married couples during the plan year that includes the date of the Windsor decision. Accordingly, under this notice, sponsors of cafeteria plans could permit employees to choose to enroll same-sex spouses in health coverage in the middle of a plan year, even though mid-year enrollments would otherwise be prohibited.
In our prior notice on Windsor, we provided transition relief to employees who elected to pay for their own health coverage on a pre-tax basis, but were previously required to pay for their same-sex spouses’ coverage on an after-tax basis. That transition relief allows employees in this situation to treat the cost of the same-sex spouse coverage as having been paid on a pre-tax basis by excluding the cost of same-sex spouse coverage from their income. The notice clarifies that this relief will apply through the end of the current cafeteria plan year.
Also, before Windsor, FSAs were not permitted to reimburse expenses incurred by the same-sex spouse of an employee. Based on the notice, a cafeteria plan could choose to reimburse qualifying expenses incurred by same-sex spouses and their dependents before the date of the Windsor decision, provided the expenses were incurred after the couple was married but not earlier than the beginning of the cafeteria plan year that includes the date of the Windsor decision. The notice also explains how the limits on contributions to HSAs and dependent care FSAs apply to individuals with same-sex spouses.
This notice underscores the Administration’s continued commitment to providing equal access to federal benefits, regardless of sexual orientation.
Betsy Bourassa is a Media Specialist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
- Posted byon December 12, 2013 at 11:09 AM EST
On Saturday, November 30th, I was honored to represent the Obama Administration before 500 clients, staff, Board, community members, public officials and clergy at Bienestar's annual "Unidos in Esperanza" (United in Hope) event in Los Angeles, California.
Held at the beautiful Placita Olvera, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora, Reina de Los Angeles, the mostly all Spanish speaking event lived up to its goal: to provide a place for those impacted by HIV/AIDS and their loved ones to celebrate the lives of those they have lost to HIV/AIDS, and provide hope to those that are living with HIV/AIDS.
Bienestar, led by its founding Executive Director and inspirational leader Oscar de la O, is a grassroots, community based organization dedicated to positively impacting the health and well-being of the Latino gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community (LGBT) and other underserved communities in Southern California. It provides education, research, services, and awareness on HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, and drug prevention, among other programs. Additionally, it is a recognized leader at the local, state, and national level on human rights and social justice issues.
I have had the pleasure of working with Bienestar for more than 15 years. As Region IX Director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – and as an openly gay and HIV+ man – I was honored and humbled to be able to speak to this audience and share the progress made by and on behalf of the community through the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. For example, in line with the goals of the President's National HIV/AIDs Strategy, the Affordable Care Act brings historic reforms important to those affected by HIV/AIDs, including the expansion of Medicaid in States that chose to expand, no annual or lifetime dollar limits on coverage, free recommended preventive services, and inclusion of mental health and substance use disorder services as one of ten essential health benefit categories.
Herb K. Schultz is Director of Region IX for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
- Posted byon December 12, 2013 at 11:08 AM EST
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting a high-energy forum at a community health center in my home town of Detroit, and saw firsthand how vital community health centers are as a source of quality health care. Today, approximately 1,200 health centers operate more than 9,000 service delivery sites that provide care to over 21 million patients across the country. I am frankly in awe of the great work that these community health centers provide, especially to the Latino and other underserved communities. These centers are a lifeline for the uninsured, providing quality care, with the dignity and respect people deserve, and in a way that takes into account the challenges that they face in their lives.
Consider Los Barrios Unidos Community Clinic (LBUCC) in Dallas, Texas and how it demonstrates the ways a community health center can really impact lives. With over 40 years of work in the community, LBUCC serves 26,000 people each year, 93% of whom are Hispanic and 70% of its Hispanic population is uninsured. At LBUCC no one is ever turned away because of inability to pay. For over 45 years, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has supported these centers in order to provide access to culturally competent primary and preventive health care in the communities that need them most.
Access to primary care positively impacts Latino families many of whom use community health centers as their primary care medical home. In fact, one-in-three community health center patients is Latino. This means that community health centers are vital assets in the effort to reduce ethnic and racial disparities in health care.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we are not just expanding access to health insurance; we are also expanding access to high-quality care by strengthening health centers in communities across America. The Affordable Care Act includes $11 billion to strengthen and grow our Community Health Centers, including supporting primary care services, establishing new sites and renovating existing health centers. On Tuesday, the Vice President announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will soon issue a $50 million funding opportunity to help Community Health Centers establish or expand mental health and substance use disorder services. This investment will help meet another important community need. And last month, HHS announced $150 million in new Affordable Care Act awards to support more than 230 new health center sites around the country.
Health centers are also an integral source of local employment and economic growth in many communities. Total health center employment is more than 148,000 individuals nationwide, and health centers added more than 35,000 jobs over the last four years including physicians, nurses and behavioral health staff.
At a time when we are focused on making sure as many Americans as possible know about the new health care options they can sign up for through the federal and state Marketplaces, it is also critical to make sure we are boosting access to quality health care services. Supporting our community health centers is just one way the Affordable Care Act is making our health care system stronger.
To learn more about how the law is improving health care for millions of Americans nationwide, visit whitehouse.gov/healthreform.Cecilia Muñoz is the Director of the Domestic Policy Council
President Obama and the First Lady Will Welcome Two Latino Kennedy Center Honorees to the White HousePosted byon December 8, 2013 at 5:54 PM EST
President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama will welcome the 2013 Kennedy Center Honorees to the White House this Sunday, December 8, where they will applaud and thank them for their musical contributions to the world. Amongst the five honorees, two of the artists being recognized are Latinos: acclaimed musician Carlos Santana and renowned soprano opera singer Martina Arroyo.
The selection of Carlos Santana and Martina Arroyo represent the rising national influence of Latin music and the Latino community. Música Latina, is known for its diversity, marked by its longstanding traditions and continuous creativity. Music has always been central to the Latino culture, a tradition that can be seen in towns and cities across America. As the Latino population in the US grows, so does the fusion of Latino rhtyms in mainstream music from radio stations to the billboard charts.
- Posted byon December 6, 2013 at 5:39 PM EST
On Thursday, December 5, the President and Mrs. Obama welcomed members of the American Jewish community to the White House to celebrate Hanukkah. They hosted two receptions in the Grand Foyer of the White House. Guests included leaders from a broad range of national and local Jewish organizations; Supreme Court Justices; Administration officials; Members of Congress; leaders from the religious community, representing an array of denominations and organizations; athletes; actors; academics; musicians; authors; journalists; and other community stakeholders. The U.S. Marine Band, America’s oldest continuously active professional music organization, known as “the President’s own,” performed in the East Room.
At both receptions, the food preparation occurred under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. Watch this remarkable still-camera video that captures the koshering of the White House kitchen.
Afternoon Hanukkah Reception
At the afternoon reception, arriving guests were welcomed into the White House to the sounds of Zemer Chai (“living song”), a choir of 30 singers from the Washington, DC metropolitan area dedicated to sharing the rich and diverse musical heritage of the Jewish people. Founded in 1976, the choir sings the full range of the Jewish repertoire.
The President and Mrs. Obama joined guests for the ceremonial candlelighting program as the eighth day of Hanukkah was drawing to a close. The President made remarks, recognizing the creators of “Thanksgivukkah” and the 10-year-old inventor of the “Menurkey,” created because of the intersection this year of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. He then invited a military chaplain, Rabbi Amanda Lurer to recite an appropriate blessing to remind the gathering and the world of the meaning of this holiday. Rabbi Lurer serves in the U.S. Navy and recently returned from a nine-month deployment in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following the blessing, Lainey and Kylie Schmitter, ages 8 and 4, respectively, lit the candles with a little help from their mom, Drew Schmitter. A military family, Lainey’s and Kylie’s Dad, Jacob Schmitter, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy currently on his fifth deployment to a forward operating base in Afghanistan.
The Schmitters lit Manfred Anson’s Statue of Liberty Menorah, which pays tribute to the promise of America for Jews who have emigrated here to find new opportunity and, in many cases, rebuild their lives. In 1986, to celebrate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, Anson created the Statue of Liberty Menorah, taking the design of a century-old Polish seven-branched menorah and adapting it for Hanukkah. He used a Statue of Liberty statuette for each branch of the menorah, transforming Lady Liberty’s torch of freedom into the candleholder for each night of Hanukkah and for the service candle. Also, he inscribed important events in Jewish history – from the Exodus from Egypt to the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel –onto the base of each statuette and crowned the menorah with the American bald eagle. The Statue of Liberty Menorah being used this year at the White House was cast from the original mold in 2011 at the request of Dr. Aaron Feingold, who donated it to the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Evening Hanukkah Reception
At the evening Hanukkah Reception, guests were treated to the sounds of Pizmon, the coed Jewish a cappella group of Columbia University, Barnard College, and The Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Pizmon (Hebrew for the chorus of a song), performing Jewish music as a source of inspiration and community outreach, was founded in 1987 and is the first collegiate Jewish a cappella group.
The President and Mrs. Obama joined guests in the Grand Foyer for remarks and a candlelighting program. On a serious note, President Obama noted the passing, a few hours earlier, of former South African President Nelson Mandela. He spoke of Hanukkah as “a story of miracles, of a light that burned for eight days when it should have only lasted for one and a people who surmounted overwhelming odds to reclaim their historic homeland, so they could live their lives in peace and practice their religion in peace.”
The President then invited Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a military chaplain who serves as the rabbi at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, to offer an appropriate blessing to remind the gathering and the world of the meaning of this holiday. The candles on a special menorah brought from the Jewish Museum in Prague were lit by two Holocaust survivors from the former Czechoslovakia, Margit Meissner and Martin Weiss, from Bethesda, Maryland. Both are volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
The nineteenth-century brass menorah used at the evening reception – and the fate of the couple who owned it – illuminates the turbulent history of the Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia during the first half of the twentieth century and the ultimate triumph of good over evil. In 1922, Abraham Isaac and Hayyah Ettinger, a husband and wife who lived in the Czech town of Hrušov, donated the 19th century brass menorah to the local prayer hall. They are named in the Hebrew inscription engraved on the menorah’s base:
The menorah was used in the prayer hall until the Nazis burned it down on the night of June 11, 1939, and demolished the rest of the building during the following winter. On November 23, 1939, after the annexation of the Czechoslovak border area (the Sudetenland), the Nazis expelled the Ettingers and their three children and deported them to Poland. The Ettingers were murdered by the Nazis in an unknown place in 1943.
Today, the menorah has been used to celebrate Hanukkah at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in Prague, a mansion that was built by a Jewish family in the 1920s and seized by the Nazis and used as a headquarters for their leaders during the German occupation.
- Posted byon December 2, 2013 at 3:17 PM EST
“Federal law is a critically important tool in eradicating the discrimination that so many people living with HIV and AIDS still face in their daily lives. By enforcing the civil rights laws and educating members of the public about their rights and responsibilities, the Department of Justice seeks to eradicate the stigma and stereotypes that so often lead to unlawful treatment of people with HIV/AIDS. Along with our partner agencies under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we remain committed to using every tool available to protect the rights of individuals with HIV/AIDS.” -Attorney General Eric Holder
In recognition of World AIDS Day 2013, the Department of Justice reaffirms its commitment to eradicating stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS across our country. President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy recognizes that important work as a priority. This year’s observance offers us the chance to both reflect on the work we have done in the past year to protect the rights of people with HIV/AIDS and – due to the sad truth of continuing discrimination – the significant work to be done in the year ahead.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division HIV/AIDS enforcement work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over the past year has been robust. Much of that work has involved allegations that individuals were denied care or were otherwise treated differently in health care, dentistry, or other clinical settings because they have HIV, and the department resolved those allegations through policy changes that ensure that all future individuals with HIV/AIDS would not face the same discrimination in those settings. These included settlements with a pain management clinic in North Carolina that refused to treat a patient due to her HIV status, a clinic in Missouri that refused to treat a woman with HIV for her serious eating disorder, a dentistry practice in Virginia that told a new patient with HIV that all of his appointments must be scheduled as the last appointment of the day, an alcohol treatment program in Ohio that excluded an individual from their program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, and a provider of bariatric surgeries based on the experiences of individuals in Pennsylvania and Michigan whose anticipated surgeries were cancelled or denied because of their HIV status.
- Posted byon November 26, 2013 at 4:46 PM EST
Misa Gonzales is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.
In the first part of my teaching career I did not have a guaranteed student base. I had to work to fill my classes, and work to keep my students coming back every week. I have kept that philosophy while teaching high school, and the use of technology in my classroom is one of the ways I interest my students in the worlds of reading and writing.
There are three things that are amplified when technology is used in an effective and efficient way in a classroom: the organization of the classroom, the communication within the classroom, and the community formed in the classroom. Without organization, it becomes chaos and teachers have been searching for years for a way to stay organized, but it never quite works. With a connected technology system, students can save all files, folders, and videos in the cloud and their items are never lost. The dog can never eat the homework, and if he happens to eat the laptop, the homework is still accessible on any other computer or cellphone connected to the internet.
This ability to seamlessly organize between student and teacher allows for a level of communication in the classroom that has never before been achievable. Through Google Docs a teacher can pull up a student’s essay, and can watch them type. He or she can monitor and adjust the student’s understanding as the student progresses through a paper, and when a cursor bar stops for an extended amount of time the teacher can check in with the student. Instant feedback through Google tools provides students with the ability to achieve their full potential. Communication through technology has allowed online collaboration between students to expand beyond traditional walls of the classroom.
The student’s ability to research across the world from cellphones and laptops has produced extensive opportunities to meet and work with other cultures and communities, and an ability to expand beyond the limitations of a traditional textbook. Students are never limited to what the teacher or the district knows, but are instead able to live and learn in a personalized learning environment. And finally, a whole new type of community is built and strengthened when students are guaranteed to have 100% digital connectivity, thus giving them the world at their fingertips, and allowing them to explore new cultures.
Organization, communication, and community build a bond of respect, trust, honor, and belief in my classroom. I believe in my students, I believe in their futures. I expect my students to walk out of every class with a feeling that they have completed something, a feeling of accomplishment. I will give you the numbers that are the most prominent in my classroom. I have 100% engagement in my room 100% of the time, and with that I also have a 100% turn in rate for all student work, and this is accomplished by 100% digital connectivity for all of our amazing students.
The technology that we use in my classroom helps to move my students forward at a pace that cannot be reached with the traditional paper and pencil format. My students have the accessibility of the world at their fingertips, and the ability to communicate through digital media like no other generation before them.
Misa Gonzales is a Freshman English teacher, at Desert View High School, in the Sunnyside School District, in Tucson Arizona. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona in Secondary Education, Extended English in 2011.
- Posted byon November 26, 2013 at 4:42 PM EST
S. Dallas Dance is being honored as a Connected Educator Champion of Change.
A cartoon that I share in some of my presentations shows a class full of students. Each one of them is fully engaged in an activity – like passing notes, eating, drawing, yawning, whispering – but none of them, in many cases including the teacher, is fully engaged in teaching or learning. This is, of course, not a cartoon about Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), but it is a cartoon about the challenge before all educators to make learning relevant and effective for each student. The cartoon highlights that the old format of a teacher at a desk in the front of the room and students seated at rows of desks awaiting a lecture is disconnected from who our students are, how they learn, and what they need.
When I arrived just last year to assume the superintendency of BCPS, I was fortunate to join an already strong school district with a legacy of high achievement. More than half of our high schools rank among the best in the nation; our arts and music programs are award-winning; and our graduation rate, among large districts, is second-highest in the nation, according to EdWeek.
But being good on average is not the same as being effective for every student, and we have a moral and social imperative to ensure that every student graduates globally competitive. What I call my reasonable impatience about this has only grown more intense since I became a father. I want for every child the same as I want for my own son, and I realized, as I nurture his growth, that we have only one chance to get it right for our students.
I have focused my BCPS administration on building the collective will to pursue deliberate excellence for our students and putting the physical and programmatic structure in place to facilitate achieving our goals. Through meetings, information sharing, and collaborative decision making, we are uniting the entire community into Team BCPS.
This team helped us develop our theory of action and Blueprint 2.0, our five-year strategic plan, which calls for, among other initiatives, an instructional digital conversion to a 1:1 learning environment and an expanded world languages program so that our students can graduate fluent in a second (or third) language.
Learning via technology has multiple benefits: allowing students access to more accurate and timely information and to other teachers and learners around the globe; personalizing the pace of learning for each student; providing instant feedback and assessments for students and teachers; supporting inquiry-based learning and the development of 21st century skills like critical thinking, creativity and collaboration; and using the technology in which students are already immersed to better engage them in their school work.
Moving to a 1:1 environment also levels the playing field – which is the role of public schools. All students need meaningful access to technology for 24/7 learning to occur. Without a 1:1 environment in our schools, there is still a digital divide between those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. We plan to close the digital divide in our schools.
The other major component of the BCPS theory of action is supporting students in becoming proficient in a second language. We know that this is another essential factor in being globally competitive, and research tells us that students who begin learning a second language before adolescence are more likely to become fluent speakers and to have higher overall academic achievement.
By pairing expanded world languages instruction with 1:1 environments, we will create classrooms that will be the opposite of the cartoon I described earlier – 21st century classrooms where teachers guide students toward higher levels of academic rigor and success.
S. Dallas Dance is the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, the nation’s 26th largest school system.