No one could have predicted that the lingering and devastating impacts of the COVID crisis would still be with us as we enter the 2022 legislative session beginning Jan. 10. While the legislators will meet in-person, AARP, advocates, and consumers will continue to use the virtual tools to engage on issues impacting people aged 50+. AARP is actively supporting legislation to help older Washingtonians stay in their own homes and preserve as much of their income as possible.
WA Cares Fund—In a recent survey, a majority of Washington voters support the new WA Cares Fund program, and support continues to increase as people learn more about the program benefits. The same survey also revealed that 75 percent of Washingtonians believe Medicare will pay for a stay in a nursing home. The legislature will continue to make improvements to the program, exploring benefits for near retirees, excluding out-of-state residents who work in Washington, and exempting military families. The program could not come soon enough as families face the financial implications of caring for someone with a long-term illness or injury.
Prescription Drugs—Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any other nation in the world. To cover the skyrocketing costs, they skimp on food or other healthcare costs. Curbing escalating prescription drug prices is a top priority for AARP. It is, again, backing a measure that would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to evaluate prices and set limits on what individuals and state agencies must pay. In 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a similar bill passed by the legislature due to the unknown burdens of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact to the state budget.
Personal Needs Allowance—50,000 Washingtonians receive Medicaid-funded in-home care services. Each individual is required to contribute a co-pay for the services. The amount is calculated by taking their income and subtracting what’s known as a personal needs allowance (PNA) to cover household costs, such as rent and utilities. The rest of their income goes toward the home care services. The current PNA is $1,074 per month yet the average monthly cost of living for older Washingtonians in 2020 was roughly $2,900. Legislation is being proposed to raise the PNA amount to $2,382.
Housing—An AARP survey shows 75 percent of adults aged 50 and older want to stay in their homes and communities as they age. By 2030, the state will face a severe shortage of affordable, accessible housing—think homes without stairs or huge yards to maintain—for those on fixed incomes. Accessory dwelling units (ADU), also known as backyard cottages, can create convenient opportunities to provide a home for a loved one needing care or for a caregiver while also increasing the dwindling housing supply. Legislation will give municipalities the ability to develop ADU housing designs that fit seamlessly into the community.
Technology—Now more than ever, people are reliant on technology to help them live, work, learn, and connect with friends and family. Unfortunately, we also know that there are great inequalities in access to high-speed affordable Internet, especially for low-income older adults. Equally as important are the technology services and supports for older adults to help them thrive in the digital world and use technology to improve their social engagement, financial security, civic participation, health, and creativity. AARP is working on legislation to advance technology usage among older adults as well as help protect them from frauds and scams.
While this is an ambitious agenda for our short session, AARP continues to seek improvements in policy and legislation to benefit current and future generations of older adults, reflecting our founders’ vision of “what we do; we do for all.”
Contributor Cathy MacCaul directs advocacy for AARP Washington. Learn more at aarp.org/wa.