WA Cares Program Evolves: $36,500 Benefit Now Accessible for Washington Expats

Workers may soon have the ability to retain their state long-term care benefits even if they relocate outside of Washington. A bill allowing eligible retirees to access the $36,500 lifetime benefit after moving out of the state passed the Senate with a 27-21 vote on Wednesday. The proposed legislation extends participation to those who relocate, provided they continue contributing to the program. The bill is now awaiting approval from Governor Jay Inslee.

The WA Cares Fund, funded by a 0.58% tax on workers’ incomes in Washington, offers a lifetime benefit starting July 2026. This benefit, amounting to $36,500, can be utilized to cover various long-term care expenses for older, injured, or disabled individuals, including caretaking, equipment, and meals.

House Bill 2467 aims to address a major criticism of the program – that workers contributing throughout their careers cannot access benefits if they move out of Washington. Representative Nicole Macri, the bill’s sponsor, emphasized the importance of ensuring benefits are accessible regardless of one’s location.

Another legislative proposal, Senate Bill 6072, is also under consideration. It introduces a portability option for the program and includes additional changes, such as creating a private long-term care insurance option for individuals once their benefits are exhausted. This bill may be voted on in the House before the legislative session concludes on March 7.

The WA Cares program, enacted in 2019 and implemented last year, has faced controversy. Supporters argue it is essential for aiding the state’s aging population, while critics contend that many contributors may never fully utilize the benefit. An initiative set for the November ballot proposes making the program optional, allowing individuals to opt in or out at any time.

House Bill 2467’s portability solution has drawn criticism from Republicans, who find it bureaucratic and “clunky.” The bill requires individuals leaving Washington to continue contributing if they have paid into the program for at least three years, reporting their wages to the Washington State Employment Security Department within a year of departure.

Concerns also exist that the bill might be perceived as an alternative to the upcoming initiative on the ballot. Republicans express support for the initiative and are cautious about confusing voters with additional options. However, Senator Karen Keiser, the bill’s sponsor, clarified that the portability option is meant to enhance flexibility and does not serve as an alternative.

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