Elizabeth Hovde says WA Cares is harming workers financially and in some cases, low-income workers are being forced to give their money to a program that benefits others with higher incomes
Washington Policy Center
WA Cares is “not a solution that’s going to solve the costs of long-term care. And it’s gonna be one more step that makes Washington state unaffordable for a whole group of workers,” said Republican Senator John Braun of the state’s new long-care program and tax.
“We have to start listening to the people,” added Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, as she noted an advisory vote on WA Cares in which voters disapproved of the plan by 63 percent.
There are better ways to plan for the possibility of long-term care, and young workers are paying for something they don’t need when they can’t even buy homes yet, said Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima.
This common sense from Olympia isn’t just happening now. These lawmakers, and others, have been speaking out against — or trying to take the WA Cares’ burden off of Washington workers’ backs — for years. And a group of senators held a news conference Monday to talk about a bill they are offering in the next legislative session. It would expand the ability for people to opt out of the mandatory tax.
Democrats have a majority in the Legislature, however, and they have wanted WA Cares to move ahead. The long-term-care law was passed in 2019 and is a poorly designed, unfair program that asks a lot of workers, promises too little, and helps the Medicaid budget and a union for caregivers far more than individuals who are being told this program is for them.
See more about the payroll tax of 58 cents on every $100 a worker makes in my policy paper about WA Cares. Even if workers pay in for all of their working years, they may never receive a benefit. Taxpayers who do end up qualifying only receive an inadequate lifetime benefit of $36,500 to pay for possible long-term-care needs.
The ability to opt out has been limited. Even still, about 500,000 people did, and the state can expect about 200,000 more exemptions, given legislation passed in 2022 for people who live out of state, non-immigrant visa holders and some veterans and military spouses, Wilson said.
Do we have to wait until the next legislative session for lawmakers to consider this bill allowing for more exemptions? It looks like it. While Braun said the bill was undergoing code revisions and would be ready soon, he doubts a special session would be called to consider it. Again, Democratic leadership has wanted WA Cares and has resisted calls to repeal the long-term-care law, even after widespread, not partisan, disapproval from the public.
Braun explained the bill he and his senate colleagues are proposing will make WA Cares optional for all workers. “If you don’t want to participate you don’t have to participate. You don’t have to explain why. You don’t have to prove you have another plan.”
State officials and WA Cares’ supporters have said that a free-for-all opt-out would kill WA Cares. Braun says that isn’t a bad thing. If you build something people don’t want, says the senator, you need to rethink it.
Why would some Democrats go along with this bill? Braun thinks people’s outrage about the pay decreases they see this month will bring Democrats to the table. There is also an initiative brewing to make WA Cares optional instead of mandatory. I wrote about Initiative 2124 last week here. Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, also has told me he plans to seek outright repeal of the long-term-care law again. I hope one of these efforts for better public policy succeeds.
WA Cares is harming workers financially. In some cases, low-income workers are being forced to give their money to a program that benefits others with higher incomes. It isn’t wise to create safety nets for people in need and people not in need. Further, his long-term-care plan won’t help many people who are being promised “peace of mind” about possible long-term-care needs.
As Braun said at the end of the news conference, lawmakers shouldn’t be making life harder for the middle class. WA Cares does just that.
Elizabeth Hovde is a policy analyst and the director of the Centers for Health Care and Worker Rights at the Washington Policy Center. She is a Clark County resident.
- Opinion: A taxpayer receipt would help provide a snapshot of government spendingJason Mercier of the Mountain States Policy Center discusses the concept of providing an itemized receipt for taxpayers about their tax dollars and it relates to government.
- Importance of open government laws on display with shocking storiesJason Mercier of the Mountain States Policy Center discusses two recent stories that illustrate the lengths that some public officials will go to evade public accountability.
- POLL: Should voters be given the opportunity to decide a proposed repeal of provisions of the 2021 Washington Climate Commitment Act?Should voters be given the opportunity to decide a proposed repeal of provisions of the 2021 Washington Climate Commitment Act?
- Opinion: Three keys to making sure regulations don’t suffocate citizens and the economyChris Cargill of the Mountain States Policy Center explains that whether they are at the local, state or federal level, all laws and regulations have a cost.
- Opinion: 2024 – A year for political actionNancy Churchill points out that everyday Washingtonians are experiencing runaway inflation coupled with rapidly rising taxes.