State hits pause button on long-term care tax

The new payroll tax designed to pay for nursing care and other services for aging Washingtonians won’t take effect in January as originally planned.

Governor Jay Inslee announced Dec. 17 that he would delay the tax that bankrolls the program, known as WA Cares. That means employers won’t be charged the premium and won’t have to take the 0.58 percent tax out of workers’ paychecks starting Jan. 1.

The delay came after more than 450,000 people applied to opt out of the new system. Insurance programs require a certain level of participation to break even.

In a written statement, Inslee said he wants to give state legislators time to make tweaks to the program, which top lawmakers said they intend to do when the Legislasture’s 2022 session convenes in January.

“Legislators have identified some areas that need adjustments, and I agree,” Inslee said.

The legislative session begins Jan. 10 and is scheduled to run through early March.

The long-term care program, which state lawmakers approved in 2019, is intended to provide individuals who struggle with multiple aspects of daily living with a lifetime maximum benefit of up to $36,500 each. That money is supposed to pay for things like in-home nursing care, time in an assisted-living facility, or home improvements such as wheelchair ramps that could help people age in place. But lawmakers have raised concerns about the program in recent months, particularly as many Washington residents rushed to opt out.