AARP Washington Advocacy Hub

Posted on 03/23/24

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that empowers people to choose how they live as they age. We're advocating for what is important to our members and giving you a voice at the state and federal levels.



Driving Change: AARP Champions Legislation for Washingtonians

In a flurry of activity during our two-month legislative session, Washington lawmakers introduced almost 1,200 bills. Fortunately, AARP Washington lobbied fiercely for a fraction of those, tracking fifteen bills across the House and Senate. While we didn’t move all the legislation that we had hoped, our priority bills made it past the finish line. The Governor has now signed or approved bills creating an automatic savings program for Washington workers, eliminating surprise billing for ambulance services, reintroducing co-living to the state, expanding portability for the state’s long-term care insurance programs, and securing funding for critical nutrition programs.

Research by Pew Charitable Trust finds that having access to payroll deductions makes people 15 times more likely to save and 20 times more likely if it is automatic. On March 28, Governor Inslee signed legislation to create a new automatic savings program. It will help the 43% of Washington’s private sector employees who can’t save for retirement from their regular paycheck. Washington Saves is a voluntary program that allows workers to contribute directly from their paychecks to a retirement account, regardless of who they work for. They would always control their contribution level and could opt-out anytime. These accounts are also portable, meaning workers can continue saving even if they change jobs or move out of state.

A 2023 study by the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner found that ambulance rides are the only emergency service for which consumers are at risk for surprise billing. On average, the part of the ambulance bill patients were responsible for was more than $500 for emergency trips and more than $1,000 for non-emergency service. In a medical crisis, no one should worry about whether their insurance will cover the cost of the ambulance. With the new legislation, Washingtonians will be protected from charges for out-of-network healthcare services by prohibiting surprise billing for ground ambulance services.

AARP state offices nationwide have championed legislation for over a decade to create more affordable housing options. With the passage of House Bill 1998, a once common housing option is revived by setting standards to legalize co-living homes statewide. Co-living homes—think micro-apartments, often with a kitchenette and access to larger shared kitchens and community spaces—are a low-cost option that disappeared over the last decade due to restricted zoning laws. Co-living homes are a housing choice that’s desirable for people in a variety of stages of work and life, including older adults looking to downsize.

We also celebrate a significant change to Washington's long-term care benefit program. A path to portability has been on our to-do list since the legislation initially passed in 2019. In 2022, we allowed those near retirement to access 10% of the set benefit of $36,500 for each year they worked before retirement. With the passage of House Bill 2467, we have added portability to WA Cares. Washington workers can access benefits through the state’s new long-term care insurance program, WA Cares Fund, even if they leave the state for a new job or to retire.

Rounding out our priority legislation, AARP pushed legislators to extend funding for Washington’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA) nutrition programs, which were on the brink of losing funding that helps them serve nearly 1.4 million meals for 18,686 seniors and people with disabilities. With rising food prices, health care expenses, prescription drugs, and other necessities, too many families struggle to pay bills and have healthy food to eat. While we didn’t get as much money as we hoped and could only extend funding for one year, these programs will continue to provide hot meals at community sites, senior center food pantries, mobile food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and other nutrition services.

Amidst the fast-paced 2024 session, AARP Washington's focused efforts have yielded significant victories for residents across the state. As we celebrate these milestones, we're energized to continue advocating for policies that promote prosperity and security for all Washingtonians.




Our 2024 Legislative Priorities


HEALTH CARE

SB 5986 – Ground Ambulance Balance Billing

On February 26, SB 5986 passed the House on a 95 – 1 vote.


A 2023 study by the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner found that ground ambulances are the only emergency service for which consumers are at risk for surprise billing. On average, the part of the ambulance bill patients were responsible for was more than $500 for emergency trips and more than $1,000 for non-emergency service.

In 2021, the federal No Surprises Act was passed, offering protection to patients who require air ambulance services. However, due to the complexity of the nation's system, provisions for ground ambulance services were not included.

Legislation has been enacted in 14 states to shield consumers from unexpected bills for ground ambulance services. Washington legislators are stepping up to do the same. Senate Bill 5986 protects consumers from out-of-network healthcare services charges by prohibiting surprise billing for ground ambulance services.
 



HOUSING

HB 1998 - Legalizing co-living housing

On February 22, HB 1998 passed the Senate on a 44 – 4 vote.


Co-living homes—small apartments with shared kitchens—are a low-cost housing option that most communities lack because local zoning laws make them illegal or otherwise impractical to build. HB 1998 aims to fix that by setting standards to legalize co-living homes statewide.

Co-living homes are a housing choice that's desirable for people in a variety of stages of work and life, like:

· Renters who want a small, low-cost rental, possibly while saving to purchase a home;

· Residents who wish to trade off square footage for location in a neighborhood they couldn't otherwise afford;

· People who like shared community spaces, like courtyards, kitchens, and lounges, that facilitate social connections;

· Single seniors who want to downsize and appreciate the alternative mobility options often available near co-living homes (AARP, for one, also supports Washington's co-living bill); and

· Individuals who want a more private alternative to living with roommates in a traditional rental, which frees up larger rentals for families with children.

KUOW ran a great article about co-living and its benefits for older adults. Why some Seattle area seniors are choosing dorm-sized apartments


 
CAREGIVING

HB 2467 – Improvements to Washington's long-term care benefit

On February 28, HB 2467 passed the Senate on a 27 – 21 vote.


70% of us will wind up needing long-term care—like help with meals, chores, and daily tasks – at some point in our lives due to an injury, illness, disease, or the normal challenges that can come with age. Most workers can't afford private long-term care insurance or would be denied a policy because of pre-existing conditions.

This bill addresses several policy updates and improvements to Washington's long-term care benefit, including making the benefit available for people who move out of state and setting up a supplemental long-term care insurance program to create affordable wrap-around policies to complement Washington's program.
 



FINANCIAL RESILIENCE

SB 6069 - Retirement Savings Bills (working title: Washington Saves)

On March 1, SB 6069 passed the House on a 57 - 39 vote.


Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults have no retirement savings. Washington Saves is based on evidence that workers are fifteen times more likely to save for retirement if an option is available in their workplace, especially if they are automatically enrolled in a plan. Boston College has found that 61% of employees (over 2 million) in Washington state do not have access to a workplace retirement savings plan. The situation is bleak for employees of small businesses, where over 70% of those at firms under 50 employees lack access to a workplace plan. Women and people of color are particularly disadvantaged, with, for example, 73% of Hispanic workers lacking access to a workplace plan.

Most people plan to use Social Security for retirement, but in Washington state, the average Social Security retired worker benefit is $1,629 per month (about $19,600 annually), so retirement savings are crucial.

AARP has worked with 16 other states to pass similar legislation.

Washington Saves will allow employees to grow their retirement savings through additional contributions and investment performance. Accounts will be portable and remain with the worker if they change employers. Employers would perform a limited administrative function by processing payments of eligible employees to the program's third-party administrator through their existing payroll system.


 
FOOD INSECURITY

Funding for nutrition programs – requested by Washington Area Agencies on Aging

As of March 1, the House has included $15 million in their budget, the Senate is offering half that amount - closer to $7 million per year.


Washington's Area Agency on Aging (AAA) nutrition programs provide hot meals at community sites, senior center food pantries, mobile food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and other nutrition services.

In recent years, those who need the services have expanded to 30% more seniors and people with disabilities.

Despite having more seniors and seniors in poverty, our state budget hasn't included any additional ongoing funding for critical food programs serving these communities in years.

Without intervention, these programs that serve nearly 1.4 million meals for 18,686 seniors and people with disabilities will lose nutrition funding next year - a loss of 39% in support.

Washington's Area Agency on Aging (with support from AARP) has requested $15.2M annually to feed hungry seniors and people with disabilities.

 

 

 

This story is provided by AARP Washington. Visit the AARP Washington page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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