On March 29, 2016 the Washington State Legislative session came to an end. At the end of each session, I am often asked how I thought things went for older Washingtonians and their families.
It’s difficult not to express frustration when crucial health and human service programs were not included in the final budget. Funding decisions on education were placed on hold because no one, especially legislators up for re-election, want to wrestle with where to find new revenue to meet the state’s obligations under the McCleary ruling.
It was also disappointing to watch the failure of legislation that would have helped increase the criminal penalties for the financial exploitation of older adults. Yet, these setbacks cannot overshadow one significant milestone AARP and its coalition partners achieved this session.
Washington State became the 22nd state in the nation to pass the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. It was passed unanimously by the Washington State Legislature during the regular session and was signed by Governor Inslee on April 1.
The CARE Act is a common sense solution to help those caring for their older mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and other loved ones so they can live independently. The law ensures family caregivers have key support as their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home. The passage of this bill reflects the important role an estimated 1.2 million caregivers in Washington State play and the desire to support them in receiving the training they need so they can help their loved ones stay at home, where they want to be.
While the legislative process can be frustrating at times, I was inspired by the reaction of my 17-year-old daughter when she heard that the bill had passed.
For much of the month of March, the AARP team and a few willing teenage volunteers were up to their elbows looking up and sorting thousands of signed CARE Act petitions from Washingtonians around the state into their specific legislative districts. It wasn’t the most glamorous of tasks, but my daughter and those of a few of my colleagues rolled up their sleeves and pitched in.
In the end, an estimated 12,000 cards and letters of support were delivered to legislators by teams of volunteers and staff from AARP, our state’s 13 Area Agencies on Aging, and the Alzheimer’s Association of Washington.
Later on, and after three weeks of intense advocacy and outreach, the CARE Act was nearing the March 10 deadline to receive its final vote. The night before, my daughter could tell I was getting anxious about the outcome. While she was more familiar than usual with the issue at hand, it wasn’t at all unusual for my daughter to see her mom get worked up about her job.
But when I was able to tell her the next day that the bill had unanimously passed out of the Senate and the House and was on its way to the Governor’s desk, it was as if a light bulb had gone off for her and she realized that the cards she had sorted contributed to the effort to pass the CARE Act. She was beaming with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a feeling of being part of something big.
It’s not every day that I get to connect my day-to-day work at AARP with the concerns and priorities of my teenage daughter. Watching her realize the importance of getting involved in the fight for positive social change, and how her efforts can truly make a difference, certainly helps quell the frustration I might feel about those issues we didn’t prevail on this go-around.
So now when people ask me how the session went, I reply with pride that a group of coalition partners, volunteers, AARP members AND a few teenagers made a huge difference in helping make Washington state just a slightly better place to live in and grow old.
Contributor Cathy MacCaul directs advocacy for AARP Washington. For more information about AARP Washington, visit www.aarp.org/wa.
On April 1, 2016, Governor Jay Inslee signed SSB6327, known as the “CARE Act,” which provides family caregivers with key support as their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home. In the photo at top, Governor Inslee (center) was joined by (left to right) State Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax); Bob LeRoy, Alzheimer’s Association of Washington executive director; Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington advocacy director; Mary Clogston, AARP advocate; State Sen. Barbara Bailey (R-Oak Harbor, bill sponsor); Mike Tucker, AARP state president; and Stu Seibel, Yakima resident and family caregiver. Photo courtesy of AARP Washington.