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Democrats seek to quell opposition to WA Cares ahead of potential repeal in November

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(The Center Square) – Democrats in Olympia are moving ahead with measures they hope will allay some of the concerns about WA Cares, the state-run long-term care benefit program.

But Republicans say bills moving forward in the Legislature don’t address their major concerns.

Meanwhile, Initiative 2124 to the Legislature to allow people to opt out of the program is likely headed to the November ballot.

As for the proposals Democrats have offered to quell the opposition, the major piece of legislation getting attention is Substitute House Bill 2467 that would let Washingtonians access benefits even if they leave the state for a new job or to retire.

Currently, the benefit is only usable within Washington.

Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP told lawmakers during public testimony the measure “creates some very good improvements to the bill as we know that roughly 3 million individuals here in Washington state will be able to access the WA Cares benefit when they need support and assistance.”

Most people will need assistance as they age, she noted.

“We also know that 70% of people will need support of long-term care and assistance so this bill is critically important,” McCall said.

“Portability was always an issue they knew they had to fix,” said McCall, referring to opposition to WA Cares’ current iteration that does not allow people to take the benefit with them should they leave Washington.

Elizabeth Hovde with Washington Policy Center testified as “other” in bringing up several concerns about the legislation.

She told lawmakers that this new bill would be perceived as an alternative to Initiative 2124, potentially further complicating an already complicated situation.

The Legislature may approve the initiative or send it to voters. If an initiative is rejected by the Legislature or the Legislature takes no action by the end of the session on March 7, the secretary of state will certify the initiative for the next November general election. The Legislature may also pass an alternative proposal to accompany an initiative on the ballot.

Hovde said SHB 2467 is premature since payouts would not begin until 2026.

“There is time to make changes after voters weigh in November 2024,” she noted.

Hovde has other concerns.

“The bill says a person would have to pay into the tax for three years and at least 500 hours in each of those years,” she said. “I think that will require yet another amendment to the law. The Long Term Care Trust Commission said portability would require changing the hours-worked-in-a year requirement from 500 to 1,000 hours for all workers trying to earn benefit eligibility.”

Another challenge raised by Hovde: “This legislation places a reportability burden for out-of-state workers that in-state workers don’t have.”

She concluded, “I think the bill creates unequal treatment for in-state and out-of-state worker provisions.”

SH 2467 has passed the House of Representatives and is now being considered in the Senate, however companion legislation Senate bill (6072), which is more comprehensive than 2467, according to Hovde, is the main one being considered at this point.