Many of us carry a nagging worry. What happens when dad or grandma—or we ourselves—can no longer manage on our own? How can we afford assisted living or nursing home care? Fortunately, individual Washingtonians will soon no longer have to bear the entire burden of those costs.
A couple years ago, state lawmakers passed the Long Term Care Act, which will provide a $36,500 benefit to help pay for long-term care for Washingtonians who work in the state and pay into the program. Now the WA Cares Fund that the law established is gearing up. On January 1, 2022, Washingtonians will begin to see deductions of just 58 cents of every $100 earned going into the WA Cares Fund to finance these benefits when our families need them most.
Why is this new fund needed? Because the current default system to pay for long-term care—spend down your savings until you have nothing left, and then move over to the state’s Medicaid program—doesn’t work. And that default system is only for the fortunate who have savings to begin with.
Ten thousand baby boomers retire every day. Without WA Cares, Washington’s spending on Medicaid-funded long-term care is set to explode to more than $4 billion every year. Demand for care, whether in an assisted living facility or at home with a caregiver, is already outpacing supply, and the problem is increasing by the year. Family members are forced to shoulder more and more of the caregiving burden, pushing many to go part-time or drop out of the workforce altogether.
Daughters are usually the first to take on these responsibilities, making a workplace that already treats men and women unequally even more unfriendly to women workers. These caregivers take many financial hits, and they are often not paid for their caregiving labor. The caregivers frequently reach deep into their pockets to pay for their family members’ long-term care costs, prescriptions, copays, and other expenses. On average, unpaid caregivers spend 20% of their own income on out-of-pocket long-term care costs.
National politicians are finally waking up to the long-term care crisis that Washington has been grappling with for years. The Better Care Better Jobs Act, a legislative spinoff of President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, would appropriate $150 billion for long-term care, essentially doubling federal spending on community and in-home care for older Americans. This cash infusion is desperately needed. Our system is ill-equipped to handle our aging population and give our family members, friends, and neighbors the care and dignity they deserve.
The Better Care Better Jobs Act, which has been included in Senate Democrat’s proposed budget reconciliation package, also includes provisions that would encourage the ability of home-care workers in every state to join together in a union, which would in transform poverty jobs into living wage jobs with secure benefits. In many places, the home-care industry is failing to attract workers, offering low wages without job security for work that is physically and mentally challenging and often isolating for a workforce primarily composed of women of color.
Fair compensation reduces turnover, which in turn improves the quality and dependability of care for seniors and people with disabilities. The in-home aide workforce is expected to increase 41% by 2026, far outpacing the 7% average increase expected across other industries. These workers deserve to be respected, protected, and paid, and President Biden has responded with a boldness and clarity that matches the moment.
Home-care workers in Washington are among the best compensated in the country, and the Long Term Care Act, along with the benefits collectively fought for and won by labor unions, will help our state remain a national leader in the treatment of its older citizens.
We can and should continue to redefine and reexamine ways to provide appropriate and necessarily long-term care, and to support the people who are willing to do the work. Anything less, and we default to the national status quo: a fiscally irresponsible and morally unconscionable path to poverty.