The Washington Secretary of State’s Office recently certified a pivotal initiative, I-2124, which introduces an option for workers to opt out of the state’s long-term care tax. This is the sixth and final initiative by “Let’s Go Washington” to be slated for the November ballot, bypassing the need for legislative intervention.
Originally, Washington legislators had enacted a groundbreaking tax on workers to support the Washington Cares Fund, a long-term care program funded by a 0.58% payroll tax on employee wages. This law, which took effect in July, initially allowed individuals to opt out of the policy before December 1, 2022. However, I-2124 extends this provision, offering workers the flexibility to opt-out at any time.
Brian Heywood, the founder of Let’s Go Washington, criticized the existing tax in a news release, labeling it as a “cynical government money grab” that ostensibly offers a legitimate insurance product but is marred by mandatory participation and payout flaws. He argues that these flaws benefit union bosses at the expense of vulnerable elderly patients and contrasts this with how a similar scheme by a private company would likely face legal challenges.
Heywood further explains that the initiative doesn’t strip away the right to participate in the program for those who wish to remain; instead, it empowers individuals forced into a system they believe won’t benefit them with the option to opt-out.
Opposition to I-2124 comes from groups like We Care for WA Cares, which contends that the initiative could effectively dismantle the long-term care program by repealing the tax. They highlight the program’s significance, especially for the estimated 860,000 unpaid family caregivers in Washington, who are predominantly women or people of color, noting that WA Cares offers the possibility of compensating a family member for caregiving services.
This initiative represents a critical juncture in Washington’s approach to long-term care, balancing between providing a sustainable care program and offering individual financial autonomy.