New legislation helps consumers make ends meet in today’s turbulent economy

Posted on 04/05/22

It was a race to the finish, as AARP advocates and volunteers worked tirelessly to pass legislation during this year's 60-day legislative session. Several priority bills received most of our attention, as AARP focused on legislation to help older Washingtonians hold onto as much of their income as possible.

This multi-pronged approach to keeping money in our pocketbooks spanned a variety of issues, including help paying for hospital visits, expanding senior property tax exemptions, preparing for the cost of long-term care, and providing digital users with the tools they need to thwart online scams.

Charity Care (HB 1616) – Too many low-income Washingtonians are one hospital bill away from financial ruin. About two-thirds of individuals who file for bankruptcy cite medical debt as a key contributor. Charity care laws require hospitals to forgive some or all out-of-pocket costs for essential health care to low-income patients. But Washington's charity care law only covered those who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For example, a single parent working two minimum wage jobs to make ends meet is not eligible for charity care under current law.

AARP joined the State Attorney General's Office in advocating for the successful passage of House Bill 1616, which will strengthen Washington's social safety net for low-income residents by expanding access to those who make up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. More information on the new income guidelines is available at CharityCare@doh.wa.gov or call 360-236-4210 with charity care questions.

Personal Needs Allowance (SB 5745) - 50,000 Washingtonians receive Medicaid-funded in-home care services. The Personal Needs Allowance (PNA) is the income that a Medicaid recipient can keep after paying co-pays for in-home care. While Washington is often a leader in home health care, our PNA rate was set at $1,074 a month. Far lower than the national average.

Too many vulnerable adults faced a monthly struggle to pay for rent, food, utilities, internet, cell phone, prescription drugs, and personal items with such a limited amount. The new legislation more than doubles the previous allowance to $2,382. This crucial adjustment means fewer Washingtonians will have to choose between paying for their care or necessities like food, rent, and utilities.

Senior Property Tax Exemption – At the beginning of 2022, new changes to the state's senior property tax exemption program have expanded the number of deductions taxpayers can take to determine whether or not they are eligible for partial tax relief.

According to the new changes, older adults and those with disabilities can deduct out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, home care costs, Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance premiums, long-term care insurance, and medical equipment.

To be eligible, property owners must be at least 61 years of age or disabled, a veteran with an 80% service-connected disability, or the surviving spouse or domestic partner who is at least 57-years-old and was married to someone previously receiving the exemption.

Digital Navigator Fraud Training – The COVID pandemic has forced us to rely more than ever on the internet for practically everything: food, medicine, doctor visits, shopping, and social connection to family and friends. During the pandemic, a great deal of work went into expanding access to internet service. Still, those new to the internet or with limited understanding need support and training to utilize the technology.

Digital Navigator services are essential in helping new internet users get online. These resources will support individuals seeking work, families supporting students, English language learners, Medicaid clients, people experiencing poverty, and senior citizens.

Digital Navigator services will include developing a hotline that community members can call during standard business hours for assistance or schedule an appointment with a Digital Navigator. They will also offer ongoing digital literacy skills training, including technical skills and application support across a broad spectrum of devices, platforms, and applications in communities throughout Washington. More information is at TechConnect at connect-wa.org or calling 800-216-1132.

WA Cares - In December of 2021, the legislature paused the start of WA Cares to make further improvements to the program. The original legislation had a narrow path for those who would retire before the 10-year vesting requirement to be eligible for WA Cares. Including benefits for near-retirees was the number one priority for AARP. 

With the passing of HB 1732, more than one million near-retirees are now covered by the WA Cares program to help pay for care services that keep us in our homes as we age. Washington workers born before 1968 will qualify for partial benefits on a pro-rated basis, which equals 10% of the $36,500 benefit for each year they have paid into the fund.

As we navigate our reemergence from the pandemic rollercoaster, AARP will continue to work on policies and legislation to help ease the challenges facing older Washingtonians. You can learn more about our activities by visiting www.aarp.org/wa.

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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