Opinion: SB 5479 would again delay payroll tax collection for state’s long-term-care program

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center states why the state’s new long-term-care law is still broken.

Elizabeth Hovde of the Washington Policy Center states why the state’s new long-term-care law is still broken

Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center

Time to play kick the can again? 

A long-term-care law, and the mandatory social program and payroll tax it creates, is so unpopular and has so many problems that legislators delayed its start last January. Moving the new payroll tax’s collection of 58 cents for every $100 a worker makes from January 2022 to July 2023 was going to give lawmakers time to fix the law, we were told.

Elizabeth Hovde
Elizabeth Hovde

The thing is still broken.

Some more people are allowed to seek exemptions from the program, now called WA Cares. And near-retirees now have a fairer shot at some of the maybe-benefits that workers who need long-term services someday might be eligible for — if they stay living in Washington state and have paid into the WA Cares Fund for 10 or more years without a break of five or more years, that is. But the long-term-care law is still flawed at its core, will hurt more workers than it will help, in some cases transfers money from low-income wage earners to people with higher incomes, and offers a safety net to people in need and people not in need. 

WA Cares cannot fix the long-term-care crisis headed our way, and it shouldn’t offer peace of mind to the workers forced to fund it. Read more of my analysis of the law here

A commission has made portability, recertification of having met exemption criteria and other recommendations to the Legislature in hopes they tweak the misguided law further this session. The inadequate lifetime benefit of $36,500 would remain, however. 

This delay bill just filed in the state Senate could help give lawmakers more time to tinker — or it could give the citizenry more time to try and get rid of the law — while the state spends more money marketing and administering the program. The bill would delay the payroll tax collection another year, to July 1, 2024.

Instead of kicking cans, I say, it’s time to repeal WA Cares. A bill that would do just that is sitting and waiting for attention from the Legislature’s majority party in the House of Representatives. House Bill 1011 got my attention. Read my take on it here

Repeal of the long-term-care law is in the best interest of the state’s workers, allowing them to keep more of their income to handle long-term care and other life needs.

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.

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