Ups, Downs for WA's Long-Term Care Funding Program

April 10, 2024 at 8:20 a.m. Eric Tegethoff, Washington News Service

Access to Washington state's long-term care program will increase because of action during this year's legislative session. But the program also faces a challenge on this year's ballot.

Starting in 2026, Washingtonians will have access to up to $36,500 in benefits from the WA Cares Fund. A bill passed during this year's legislative session allows access to the program even if the contributor moves out of state.

Julie Sparkman, a Washington home care aide, says this was an important development for her adult children.

"The portability of WA Cares is really important because you never know where you're going to go the older you get. Sometimes life takes other places, and people should be free to do that. They shouldn't be stuck in a situation where it was the only way to access the benefits that they paid into," she said.

Workers started automatically contributing a little more than 0.5% of their paychecks into the fund in July 2023. Initiative 2124 on the November ballot would allow workers to opt out of the program. Opponents of WA Cares say some of the people who pay the tax will never use the program's benefits.

However, if too many workers opt out, it could crater the finances of the program. Advocates, including Sparkman, worry that if the initiative passes it would effectively repeal WA Cares.

"I'm really proud every time I see that on my paycheck stub. I'm happy with that because that is my participation in what I think socially needs to happen. And even if I never use it, I'm extremely happy to be a part of it," she continued.

In the past few years, Sparkman was diagnosed with breast cancer and had it treated. She says WA Cares might be important for her in the coming years.

"Sometimes cancer comes back. So, if I have a problem going forward, maybe the instability that that causes won't be as bad because WA Cares exists," she explained. 

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