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WA lawmakers approve out-of-state option for long-term care benefit

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The Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would allow people who move out of Washington to continue accessing the new state program.

Workers may soon be able to bring their state long-term care benefit with them if they move out of Washington.

A bill to allow eligible retirees to access the $36,500 lifetime benefit, even if they move away from Washington, passed the state Senate 27-21 on Wednesday. Under the bill, others who move out of state would also be able to participate in the program if they continue paying into it. The bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

The WA Cares Fund program applies a 0.58% tax on workers’ paychecks while they’re employed in Washington. Beginning in July 2026, those who qualify can begin accessing the benefit. The money can be used to offset long-term care expenses – like caretaking, equipment and meals – for people who are older, injured, or disabled.

House Bill 2467 addresses one of the biggest criticisms of the program: workers who may spend their whole careers paying into it can’t access the benefit if they move outside of Washington.

“Even though Washington is the first state in the nation with long term care benefits, by implementing this change, we can count on our benefits no matter where we end up,” bill sponsor Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said in a statement.

Another bill making its way through the Legislature, Senate Bill 6072, would also add a portability option for the program. It would implement other recommended changes as well, including creating a private long-term care insurance option to cover people once their benefits are exhausted. That bill could receive a vote in the House before the legislative session ends on March 7.

The WA Cares program has sparked controversy since the Legislature passed it in 2019. It went into effect last year, with the tax beginning last July.

Supporters of the program say it is vitalto help the state’s aging population, but opponents say too many people are required to pay the tax but may never actually use the full benefit. Critics also question how useful the benefit is given its limited size.

An initiative heading to the ballot this November would change the program so people would have to opt into it and could opt out at any time. Making the program optional could weaken the finances of the fund if too many workers decline to pay the tax.

Almost all workers in Washington have to pay the payroll tax but there are some exemptions, including for those who live outside of Washington but work in the state, spouses of active-duty military service members, those with non-immigrant work visas, and veterans who meet certain disability requirements.

House Bill 2467 would allow those who leave Washington to continue paying into the program. To do so, a person must have been paying into it for at least three years and would have to notify the Washington State Employment Security Department within one year of leaving the state. Someone who is under 67 years old must report and document their wages and earnings to the Employment Security Department to stay in the program.

Republicans criticized this portability solution as too bureaucratic for users. Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, called it “very clunky.”

“It’s just fraught with ways that it cannot be done properly,” Braun told reporters, noting that Republicans have been asking for a portability option since the program was passed.

During Wednesday’s floor vote, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the state needs to come up with a better mechanism for out-of-state WA Cares participants.

“I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to do this,” King said on the floor.

Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, said the portability requirement is targeted toward those who have retired and moved out of the state, even though it can still be accessed for those younger. Those who retire would not have to continue reporting their wages.

“It’s the group that retires and leaves the state that we’re most concerned with,” he said during floor debate.

Republicans are also concerned the bill might be seen as an alternative to the initiative heading to the ballot. If it is considered an alternative, it must be presented next to the initiative, giving voters a choice between the two.

Braun said Republicans are supportive of the initiative and don’t want to confuse voters with another option.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, who sponsored the Senate bill awaiting a vote in the House, said last week she worked with the Attorney General’s Office to determine the proposal is not considered an alternative.

“The portability option is really just adding flexibility,” she said.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.