OLYMPIA — A commission that steers Washington state's new long-term care program voted Wednesday to delay making any recommendations to address various issues raised about the WA Cares Fund.
State lawmakers are expected to take a look at WA Cares when the Legislature reconvenes in January, particularly at the groups of people who are currently required to pay into the program's payroll tax but will never receive any benefits.
On Wednesday, legislators on the Long-Term Services and Supports Trust Commission — which also includes advocates and other stakeholders — cited a new federal lawsuit brought against WA Cares as one reason to delay recommended changes.
"I would much rather prefer saying that the Legislature should address these issues that are raised in the list of issues, but not recommend things today," said Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, during the meeting.
"I'm very concerned about that lawsuit," Chopp added. "I mean I'm not a lawyer, but I read the articles about it. It raises some questions and I'd like to have some answers."
The commission Wednesday voted to delay making recommendations on specific changes for now. The commissioners will have a chance to weigh in once more, during their December meeting, before the Legislature begins.
Approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee in 2019, WA Cares imposes a 0.58% payroll deduction on Washington workers beginning in January. Then, starting in 2025, eligible beneficiaries can start claiming up to $36,500 to help pay for home care.
Democratic proponents describe WA Cares as a social-insurance program to help pay for in-home care and meal delivery, transportation, and nursing and assisted living care, among other things.
But opponents — and even some supporters — say the program excludes too many people who will pay in but never receive its benefits.
That includes older people who won't have time to get vested under the law's current timeline, as well as workers who ultimately leave the state to retire elsewhere and military families rotating through the region.
Another group who can't get benefits are people who work in Washington but live in another state. About 150,000 of those individuals will begin paying into the program in January, WA Cares Fund Director Ben Veghte said Wednesday at the meeting.
Wednesday's vote comes after three businesses and six individuals filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the Western District of Washington against Inslee and state officials over WA Cares.
The legal challenge alleges that, among other things, WA Cares breaks multiple federal laws, such as one forbidding a state from passing a law requiring employees to participate in a plan providing medical or sickness benefits.
It also contends disparate treatment of people paying the tax but not getting any benefits if they aren't a resident of Washington, and that it violates the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection and the Privileges and Immunities clauses.