Legislature has big opportunities for age wave

The age wave is here. By 2030, one out of five Washingtonians will be age 65-plus, up from 12 percent today.  It’s a short state legislative session this year, but there are plenty of opportunities for our lawmakers to better prepare Washington for this huge demographic shift.

AARP is advocating for some budget and policy measures to take pressure off future state budgets and create a more age-friendly society. Four important areas to focus on in 2013 include long-term care, financial security, vulnerable adults and transportation.

Long-term care

Most people are uninsured for long-term care. Medicare covers only short-term, time-limited services, private long-term care insurance is expensive, and Medicaid requires people to spend down to poverty before they can access the services they need. To help families struggling to care for loved ones, the 2014 legislature should:

· Study alternative public and private long term care financing options.

· Expand the Family Caregiver Support Program, restore Medicaid-funded homecare hours cut during the recession, and pursue the Community First Choice option as a revenue source for needed re-investments.

· Begin work on a Washington State Alzheimer’s Plan.


Financial Security

Washington is facing a retirement security crisis. A recent AARP survey of boomers found that nearly a quarter of respondents had $25,000 or less in savings. This is a huge risk for these individuals and for the state budget. To help people prepare for a secure retirement, the 2014 legislature should:


·  Encourage private savings by making it easier for small businesses to offer workplace retirement accounts.

· Oppose reductions to promised benefits for current state pensioners and defined contributions rather than defined benefits for future retirees.

· Maintain and strengthen consumer protections in the areas of pay day lending and debt collection and stop scams such as “pension poachers” targeting veterans.

Vulnerable adults

Reports to Adult Protective Services (APS) of adult abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are rapidly increasing. In the past five years, investigations have increased by 25 percent while APS staffing grew by just 9 percent. To ensure a timely and effective response, the 2014 legislature should:

· Fund 42 new APS investigators, as requested by the Department of Social and Health Services.

· Reform APS to ensure improved support for victims, training for investigators and screening for capacity.

· Fully fund the partners in abuse response, including the Long Term Care Ombudsman and the Office of Public Guardian.


The Transportation Revenue Package (TRP) is an opportunity to prepare for changing demographics. Currently, 21 percent of people age 65-plus no longer drive. This population of non-drivers will increase dramatically as the baby boomers retire. New transportation investments should promote flexible transportation options that help older people stay mobile and engaged in their community. Any new transportation package should:

· Strengthen public transit, including bus and light rail.

· Expand funding for special needs transportation.

· Promote bike/pedestrian safety through policies such as Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School.

For more information about these and other important legislative issues for older Washingtonians and their families, visit www.aarp.org/wa

Ingrid McDonald, who wrote this article, is AARP’s Washington advocacy director.