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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington’s long-term care tax could be delayed after Inslee shows support for bill tweaks

Gov. Jay Inslee is ready to commute the remaining sentences of up to 1,200 people serving community supervision following convictions for drug possession.  (Ken Lambert)

OLYMPIA – The state’s long-term care tax set to go into effect in the new year could be delayed after Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday he supports waiting to iron out certain details of the bill.

Inslee told reporters he does not have the authority to make an emergency declaration to delay it, but he could work with lawmakers to come up with a pause.

He said he supports delaying if the Legislature offers a “meaningful way to do it.”

“I am sensitive and empathetic to the needs for changes in this bill,” Inslee said.

Inslee’s support comes after Democratic leaders sent him a letter on Wednesday, urging him to pause the tax for one year while the Legislature could provide fixes. The delay would allow the Legislature to “engage the public in a transparent, deliberative process to address concerns that have been raised with the WA Cares Fund without being limited by a premium assessment that is already in progress,” the letter reads.

In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill creating the program, which aims to help residents offset the cost of long-term care. It’s the first of its kind in the country. The program requires workers to pay 0.58% of their wages into the fund beginning Jan. 1. Those who qualify can access the benefit – up to $36,500 – beginning in 2025.

It can be used on a number of services, such as professional care in-home or at a facility, home safety evaluations, equipment, training for caretakers, meals or transportation.

Because Inslee said he doesn’t have the authority to issue a declaration, the Legislature needs to take some action. One way to do that is to call a special session, but Inslee said he was instead looking at the possibility of delaying the collection of the tax until April. He was awaiting legal advice on that question but said he expected an answer “in days, I hope.”

Opposition has grown ahead of the program’s implementation as people raised concerns about the sustainability of the tax and the fact that people who live out of state but work in Washington pay the tax but can’t access its benefits.

Employees can opt out of the tax but must purchase a private long-term care insurance plan to do so.

The letter, signed by seven Democratic leaders including Spokane Sen. Andy Billig, said there have been a “high number of unexpected exemptions,” which could raise questions about the long-term solvency of the program. Delaying implementation could allow lawmakers to examine the effects of those exemptions.

The letter also says now is not the time to implement a payroll deduction, given the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives from senior groups and care providers, including AARP and SEIU 775, issued a statement Thursday saying delaying the implementation of the program would be “a big mistake.” The statement said it could hurt those hoping to access the first round of care benefits in 2025.

Instead of implementing the program, they urged lawmakers to improve it.

Lawmakers on both sides have already indicated fixing the program will be a top priority this upcoming session.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.