Drawn-Out Legislative Session Ends on Positive Note

ADS Advisory Council members Suzanne Pak, Molly Holmes, George Dicks, Kris Fredrickson, and Daphne Tomchak (accompanied by United Way's Linda Woodall) met with legislators in Olympia earlier this year.

The regular and special legislative sessions of 2013 were exhausting for advocates and legislators alike, and disagreements over the final budget threatened to shut down state government as a July 1st deadline loomed. But after 153 days, with two special sessions, a budget deal was finally reached on June 27th. The results for older adults and the disabled were … not bad at all.

"Overall, this is the best budget we have seen in over four years," said Jerry Reilly, Eldercare Alliance chair, in an email update.

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Programs that were in jeopardy—such as the Kinship Caregiver Support Program, which supports grandparents raising their grandchildren—were ultimately preserved at previous funding levels.

Other victories included:

  • Restoration of Medicaid adult dental benefits. For the past two-and-half years, most adult Medicaid recipients only had access to emergency dental care. Beginning in January 2014, the full benefit will be restored to all adult Medicaid-eligible adults.
  • Expansion of Medicaid. In accordance with 2010 Affordable Care Act provisions, more than 40,000 Washingtonians in their 50s and early 60s will gain access to health insurance that they didn't have before.
  • Preparation for the Age Wave. A new joint executive-legislative committee was created to better prepare the state for the "age wave" of retiring baby boomers. Substantial investments—and some tough decisions—will need to be made in the years ahead on how to serve this aging population in a compassionate yet cost-effective manner.
  • No cuts to the Senior Citizens Services Act (SCSA). The SCSA—scrutinized for several previous sessions—was not cut in 2013. In addition, recent increases to the Family Caregiver Support Program were preserved.

The ADS Advisory Council Advocacy Committee played an active role in securing these victories by attending Senior Lobby Day, writing and calling their legislators, and networking with like-minded groups.

Not all of the news was positive. The Office of Public Guardianship, a pilot program to provide free guardianship services to low- or no-income vulnerable and disabled adults unable to manage their personal and/or financial affairs, saw its budget cut in half.  

The legislature failed to address looming reductions to mass transit funding, cuts likely to result in a 17 percent cutback in King County Metro bus service next year. Nor did they grant local municipalities the flexibility to raise these funds on their own if necessary.

Finally, the Housing and Essential Needs (formerly Disability Lifeline) program took a $20 million hit and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) was cut by another $5.6 million. The first cut is not expected to reduce services, due to under-spending of program funds in the last fiscal year. The second cut will be more painful as lawmakers have made TANF significantly harder to access in recent years.

Perhaps more fundamentally, the legislature failed to pass any type of revenue reform that could put Washington on a more stable footing as the Age Wave crashes on our shores. No loopholes were closed. No taxes or fees were raised. In many ways this budget passes the buck on preparing for an aging-friendly Washington to future sessions. But compared to what could have happened, most advocates are saying "we'll take it."

Contributor Doug Ricker, an Aging and Disability Services planner, staffs the Aging and Disability Services Advisory Council’s Advocacy Committee. More information about the Advisory Council, the Advocacy Committee, and current advocacy activities is available online.