More exemptions sought, and more on the way, as people seek escape hatch from inadequate long-term-care program and burdensome payroll tax


A year from now, in July 2023, a majority of Washington state’s workers will start feeling the pain of a new payroll tax taking a bite out of their paychecks. The money — 58 cents of every $100 earned — will go to a social program created by a 2019 law concerning long-term care. 

Many will never benefit from the mandatory program, but that hasn’t kept the state from telling people that the program, WA Cares, offers them peace of mind. It should do no such thing.

Those who won’t need long-term care one day (lucky them) will still have had money taken away during their working years that could have been used for other life needs. People who move out of the state also will have paid for something only others will benefit from. And even those who do need long-term care — and who have paid the payroll tax for the required number of years and met state health qualifications in the program — will receive an inadequate lifetime benefit. (Read more about the misguided law here.)

Seeing a bad bet for what it is, almost 400 more people who could (defined in HB 1087) applied for exemption from the social program and its accompanying payroll tax in the last month. And nearly 400 more people were approved, like hundreds of thousands before them. 

As of July 14, the Employment Security Department reports the following WA Cares exemption numbers:

  • Total opt-out requests submitted: 478,557

  • Total processed: 478,454

  • Total opt-out requests approved: 474,834

  • Applications processed as a percentage of total: 99.98%

  • Applications approved as a percentage of total processed: 99.24%

As applications from people who purchased private long-term-care insurance by November of 2021 slow down, the Employment Security Department (ESD) is getting its ducks in a row to handle a new onslaught of applications that are expected from Washington workers in new exemption categories created at the beginning of the year. They include workers who live out of state, military spouses, workers on non-immigrant visas, and veterans with a 70% or higher service-connected disability. An ESD spokesperson tells me, “We've begun the project to implement the new exemptions and are on target to have that ready by January.” There is also a meeting at 9 a.m. Monday, July 18, to discuss rules for the process. (View draft rules and other meeting information here.)

The hits keep coming to individual and family budgets in a state where lawmakers prefer increased government spending and new state programs over tax relief for the people who pay the bills.

Sign up for the WPC Newsletter