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Proposed Bill Would Help Protect Washingtonians During Extreme Heat


Like many Washingtonians, Kim Butler, of North Seattle, is accustomed to juggling her expenses to make ends meet.

The 56-year-old mother of two, who works as a nanny, describes her income as “enough to live on, but just barely.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Butler says, she’s worked with the electric company and social service agencies to find and apply for the assistance she sometimes needs.

“I’ve avoided shutoffs by being proactive,” Butler says.

A proposal expected to be introduced during the legislative session that begins this month could help Washington residents like Butler. The legislation would prohibit utility companies from cutting off power or water service to households with past-due bills during extreme heat.

AARP Washington supports a ban on utility shutoffs. It also plans to advocate this year for other legislative proposals aimed at helping people remain in their homes as they age. These include increasing the supply of affordable housing.

The utility shutoff proposal is a response to the state’s deadly heat waves of the past two summers, says state Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), who plans to sponsor the bill. At least 19 states have heat-related anti-shutoff laws, notes the Washington attorney general’s office.

Focus on affordable housing

Soaring housing prices are also a top concern for older Washingtonians. One alternative is what’s known as an accessory dwelling unit on a residential property. An ADU can be, for example, a stand-alone cottage in a yard or an apartment over a garage.

Such structures can help allow older residents to stay close to family and their communities as they age.

People can live in ADUs, rent them out for additional income or use them as housing for a caregiver, says Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington’s advocacy director. They are also seen as one way to address the affordable housing shortage in urban areas.

State Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-North Seattle) plans to introduce a bill this year that would encourage cities to increase density by allowing developers to build such units, as long as the lot size—and the sewer and water infrastructure—supports it. The measure would also allow cities to offer builders incentives, such as lower permit fees, as long as the cost to buy or rent the finished structures is considered affordable.

An ADU bill cosponsored by Pollet last year narrowly passed in the state House but did not make it out of committee in the Senate. Republican lawmakers and some mayors voiced concerns that making state-level rules could preempt local control and not necessarily result in more affordable housing. Pollet says he hopes this year’s bill will make more headway, because it includes affordability requirements and would give cities the flexibility to offer incentives.

AARP’s MacCaul also notes that the state’s new long-term care insurance program, the WA Cares Fund, begins this year and can help workers and those nearing retirement prepare for expenses as they age. Payroll deductions (58 cents for every $100 earned) begin July 1. Starting in 2026, eligible workers will be able to tap the fund to pay for services such as home-care aides.

To learn more about the program, go to

Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle.

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