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Elizabeth Hovde
Washington Policy Center
For the Skamania Observer

The countdown for collection of the new WA Cares payroll tax is on. There are just 77 days left until W-2 workers will see their paychecks decrease for a benefit they are told by the state to have peace of mind about, even though they shouldn’t.

Beginning in July, W-2 workers will have 58 cents of every $100 they earn taken from their paychecks. A calculator on the WA Cares website and another House Republicans have created help you figure out what your pay cut will be.

Many workers will not qualify for a WA Cares benefit, even if they pay the tax for a number of years and someday need assistance with the activities of daily life. At $36,500, the lifetime benefit attached to the WA Cares program is also inadequate to meet most people’s actual long-term-care needs. Read more about the program being marketed as a sure thing — that isn’t — in my policy paper about WA Cares: “New state-run program will not fix long-term care crisis, nor should it offer peace of mind to workers forced to fund it.”

Minority party lawmakers tried to stop the law and payroll tax to no avail. And every lawmaker now knows this tax promises more than it will deliver to individuals. The additional money it brings them, however, is apparently too attractive to pass up. Or pride is getting in the way.

Meanwhile, aggressive marketing from the state on the radio and Pandora stations has been busy painting a picture of a mild tax now that will help you with services someday. The marketing doesn’t tell Washingtonians the reasons why workers might not qualify for the benefit associated with the program, nor does it discuss the state safety net that already exists to provide long-term-care services to people in need.

With WA Cares, the Legislature created a safety net for people in need and people not in need. It’s bad policy. In some cases, a low-income worker’s money will go to a person with greater resources for long-term-care services. And WA Cares won’t solve the long-term-care crisis headed our way.

The state shouldn’t be dictating which life need Washingtonians need to save for and how — while not even guaranteeing that Washington workers who pay into WA Cares will reap a benefit. But it is. The tax is coming to a paycheck near you this summer.

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