The 2013 state legislative session took a long time and we faced the threat of a state government shut down, but there were a number of positive outcomes that Washington seniors and their families can be proud of.
This past fall, thousands of AARP members from across the state spoke with then-governor-eElect Jay Inslee on a special telephone town hall, where Inslee promised to increase funding for education but not at the expense of senior services. The budget he just signed does just that.
Hereâ€™s a short list of some highlights and a few disappointments.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Medicaid was fully expanded, giving 40,000 Washingtonians age 50 to 64 access to the healthcare coverage they need.Â Another 90,000 people is this age group will be eligible for subsidies and tax credits to help them purchase coverage they can afford through the Washington HealthplanFinder, the newly established healthcare marketplace
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â More than 100,000 people age 50-plus will have their Medicaid dental benefits restored.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â There were no cuts to the number of homecare hours available to vulnerable adults who wish to remain in their own homes.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The Kinship Caregiver Program was retained.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â There were no reductions to pensions or health benefits for retired state workers.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The Office of Public Guardianship was reduced by half.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â There were no new investments in Adult Protective Services/Residential Care Services investigators
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â There is no new funding for Complete Streets measures which allow for better navigation of our streets by all users (pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists).
The new budget signed into law also includes the establishment of a two-year Committee on Aging and Disability. This committee will be composed of four legislators from each party and four members of the administration and will convene by Sept. 1. They are charged with identifying key strategic actions to prepare for the aging of the population in Washington. Weâ€™d like to thank legislative sponsors, Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-10th District) and Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-24th District), for their leadership in creating this committee.
Hereâ€™s a short list of successful bills that AARP supported because they will protect our members and their families. Visit our state website at www.aarp.org/wa for more detail on each of these measures.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Long Term Care Insurance Consumer Protections, SB 5216
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Adult Family Home Resident Protections, SB 5630
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Neighborhood Safe Speeds, HB 1045
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Medication Access for the Uninsured, SSB 5148
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Protections for Vulnerable Adults, SB 5510
Legislators failed to engage in meaningful discussion about structural tax reform and did not agree to close any of a long list of tax loopholes proposed by the governor and House Democrats.
They did however, take action on two tax measures, including an estate tax fix (Bracken Decision) HB 1920 and a telecommunications tax parity bill ESSHB 1971. Together, these two actions raised $269 million and, along with the better-than-expected revenue forecast, helped lawmakers close the gap and end their budget stalemate.
The final budget also included ESSB 5882 which included a number of new tax breaks benefiting interests such as honey bee keepers, dance clubs and more, but notably also included new tax exemption transparency and accountability measures, including clear definitions of the intent, measureable outcomes and expiration dates for all new or extended tax preferences.
The other key measure of progress on this front was the defeat of SB 5895, which called for an arbitrary spending limit on all non-education spending. AARP strongly opposed this bill which, if passed, would have triggered deep cuts in vital public services critical to all generations.
Thank you for your support and involvement this legislative session. The phone calls, e-mails and personal contacts you make with your elected lawmakers makes all the difference.
(Ingrid McDonald, who wrote this article, is an AARP advocacy director)