Sixty days and more than 4,000 bills later, Washington State legislators have closed this year’s 2018 session. Of the many bills AARP targeted and focused on, those that help put money back into the hands of consumers were standouts. The elimination of credit freeze fees; more money for those living in care facilities; relief from some property tax levies; restoration of funding for hearings aids; and the defeat of an attempt to reduce homeowner protections are now in the “win” column.
Free Credit Freeze
Last summer, when Equifax revealed a cyberattack may have affected 143 million people, consumers scrambled to protect their identity. However, proactive Washingtonians face fees up to $60 for that protection – $10 to each credit company and an additional $10 to unfreeze the account. Why should consumers have to pay for someone else’s mistake? Thanks to Senator Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), SB 6018 and a supportive legislative body, by early summer these fees will be a thing of the past. In addition to removing the fee burden, the bill also directs the Office of Cybersecurity, Office of Privacy and Data Protection and the Attorney General’s office to study the impact these fees have on consumers and consumer reporting agencies.
Boost in Monthly Personal Needs Allowance
Beginning January 1, 2019, residents of care facilities – like a nursing home, adult family home, or rehabilitation health center – will see a bump in the amount of money they receive monthly for clothing, personal items and other incidental expenses like a gift or newspaper subscription. Representative Derek Stanford (D- Bothell) helped spur a personal needs allowance makeover. We secured an increase in the monthly amount to $70; consolidated a two-tier allowance amount to only one-tier which pays the same amount across the board; and implemented a yearly cost of living adjustment tied to the rate of inflation.
Hearing Aid Funding Restored
Since January 2011, Medicaid patients have had no recourse but to dip into their own pockets to purchase expensive hearing aids at an average cost of $2,363 per device. Thanks to Senator Barbara Bailey’s (R- Oak Harbor) bill, that obligation ends on January 1, 2019. The legislature has agreed to devote more than $1 million to reinstate hearing aids for adults on Medicaid. In addition to the restored funding, coverage must include a new hearing device every five years including all medical appointments for assessment, fittings, adjustments and auditory training. The benefits of this bill go beyond basic hearing needs. People experiencing hearing loss have a higher risk of depression, social isolation, serious falls, and an overall reduced quality of life.
Property Tax Progress
The fallout of an economic boom and a mandate to fully fund basic education has resulted in an exponential increase in property taxes. A scenario that has left many older homeowners on fixed incomes struggling to stay in their family homes. This situation spurred a slew of bills this session aimed at easing the cost burden for distressed homeowners. Many bills show promise, however finding funding to offset tax exemptions requires more investigation. A bill introduced by Representative Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) which addresses local property tax levies made it through this session. The bill is geared towards older adults and disabled persons and gives local jurisdictions the ability to exempt these populations from property tax levies by including tax exemption language in ballot measures. The new law will apply retroactively to King County’s Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy, as well as any other levies that have been approved by voters in counties with populations more than 1.5 million people and future levies.
Tax Lien Foreclosure Fails
In addition to proactive work to pass legislation, AARP Washington spent an equal amount of energy fighting against an attempt to reduce homeowner protections. Under existing law, only a homeowner can recover proceeds from a tax lien foreclosure sale. Senate Bill 6005, backed by banks and third party debt collectors, would have given lienholders the first right to recover proceeds from a tax lien sale, placing the real homeowner at the end of the line. The legislature’s own analysis said, “The bill removes the incentive for financers to come to the table with homeowners to prevent foreclosure. Existing law protects homeowners and the bill hurts those protections.” The bill, which failed in committee, almost was resurrected by placing SB 6005’s language as an amendment into another bill. Fortunately, the amendment was rejected by the legislature.
AARP Washington’s efforts to advocate on behalf of older adults are strengthened by the voice of our members and our state’s older adults. Together we make a difference. Together we work to empower people to choose how they want to live as the age. Find out more about AARP’s work in Olympia and across that state at www.aarp.org/wa.