PSARA & the 2014 Legislative Session
By Robby Stern
PSARA has increased its presence in Olympia as we try to influence the direction of state policy and budget decisions. By contracting with PSARA member Pam Crone, a well known and effective lobbyist, we work with allied organizations to push a progressive agenda. But we can anticipate, with the Senate in the control of a very conservative Republican majority, that we will be opening the door for future sessions rather than winning major victories.
Nevertheless, our philosophy is stay on the offensive and also mount the inevitable sturdy defense. We have three primary policy goals for this session. In addition, we will advocate for several budget items in the supplemental budget.
Policy Item 1: The legislature should pass legislation providing Paid Sick Days for workers statewide. Our family members need to be eligible for paid sick days to care for an elderly parent, a sick child or a spouse. Workers should not have to choose between working sick or losing a day’s pay. They should not have to make the choice of caring for a loved one at the expense of a pay check. Paid sick days are essential for the public health of all Washingtonians.
Policy Item 2: Senator Cantwell was able to insert in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) a health care program known as the Federal Basic Health Option (FBHO), modeled after Washington’s BHP. This program would allow people between 138% % and 200% of federal poverty (single person $15,300 – $22,980; family of two, $20,630-$31,020; family of three, $25,980-$39,060) to purchase affordable health care with significant subsidies. The FBHO would also provide a health care option to documented immigrants who are deemed ineligible for Medicaid.
The vast majority of Washingtonians below 138% of poverty are eligible for the expanded Medicaid (now called Washington Apple Health). However, many eligible Medicaid recipients go up and down the income levels, sometimes earning under 138% and sometimes earning more than 138% in any given twelve month period. The FBHO would allow low-income Washingtonians to maintain access to care and continuity of care since the providers in the Washington Apple Health system would also be providers under the FBHO.
The legislature should pass legislation authorizing Washington to participate in the FBHO. Until the FBHO is implemented, the legislature should allow people on Washington Apple Health (Medicaid), once they qualify for Medicaid, to remain eligible for twelve months. Presently, children who qualify for Washington Apple Health are eligible for twelve months. But adults must re-qualify monthly. The same qualifying standards should be applied to adults as apply to children until the FBHO is operational in Washington.
Policy Item 3: There is a loophole in the Affordable Care Act that allows the lowest wage large employers to shift the cost of health care coverage for their employees onto the Medicaid system without a penalty for those employers. These workers earn so little from their employers that they qualify for Washington Apple Health. The legislation we support would require these large employers to contribute to the cost of Medicaid which would also save money for the General Fund.
In addition, the following are what we want as part of the Supplemental Budget:
-Allocate $400,000 for a Long-Term Care Financing Study that will examine new models for financing long-term care. Many people needing long-term care must impoverish themselves to be Medicaid eligible and thereby get access to the care they need. Additionally, the cost of private long-term care insurance is beyond the means of most people. The study would look at public and private options for financing long-term care.
-Restore the Housing Trust Fund to $100 million to assist in the provision of low-income and affordable housing.
– Restore funding for Medicaid funded home care services to offset the impact of the approximately 15% cuts to these services since 2008.
-End corporate tax breaks that fail to produce more revenue to the state than the cost of the tax loophole. Reform the tax break system so all tax breaks have expiration dates and accountability requirements.
-Support restoration of full funding for the Public Guardianship Program.
Should other progressive issues emerge during the legislative debate (like the State Bank), PSARA will support those policy initiatives.
PSARA members will have the opportunity to influence the legislature. Our lobbyist will let us know when it is timely to send emails to our legislators. If we have your email address, we will contact you. In addition, we are setting up meetings with as many legislators as possible prior to the session. We will be participating in Senior Lobby Day on Feb. 20th. All PSARA members are invited to join us when we travel to Olympia and talk directly with our legislators about their support for our issues.