Washington Cares Fund – WA State Long-Term Care Tax
Washington Governor Clarifies LTC Premium Withholding By Employers
On December 28, 2021, Washington Governor Jay Inslee clarified that, starting January 1, “employers will still be legally obligated to pay the full amount owed to state ESD [Employment Security Department] to begin the long-term care program” under the Washington Long-Term Services and Supports Act.
On December 17, 2021, Governor Inslee had issued a joint statement with two legislators that supported employers pausing premium collections from Washington employees while the legislature decides whether to amend the law. In his more recent December 28th statement the governor warned, “Only the legislature has the authority to eliminate the requirement that employers pay a premium based on withholding from an employee’s wages at this time.”
Washington State Long Term Care Trust Act
The Washington State Long-Term Care Tax, also known as the WA Cares Fund, should have the attention of every Washington state employer and employee. This new law mandates a tax on employee’s wages ($0.58 on every $100 of wages ) to pay for long-term care benefits for Washington residents.
The tax/premium collections were scheduled to start January 1, 2022. Those who plan to retire in the next 10 years will have to pay premiums, but may never qualify for the benefit.
If you have already purchased long-term care insurance, click here to learn how to apply for an exemption from the state tax.
Washington State Long-Term Care Tax Opt Out
The legislation provided a one-time window to opt out of this tax and waive the right to receive benefits under the public long-term care program by demonstrating that you have obtained qualifying private long-term care insurance before November 1, 2021.
An employee who attests they purchased long-term care insurance before November 1, 2021, may apply for an exemption from the premium assessment under RCW 50B.04.080. The employment security department must accept applications for exemptions only from October 1, 2021, through December 31, 2022. This puts employees on notice that they had a very short window to buy long-term care insurance.
What Is The Washington Long-Term Care Program?
The Washington Long-Term Care Program is the nation’s first public state-operated long term care insurance program. The Program (RCW chapter 50B.04) will be funded with a .0058 (0.58 percent) payroll tax on all employee wages, beginning January 1, 2022.
Employers must collect this assessment through after-tax payroll contributions and remit those premiums to the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). Employers are not required to contribute to the Program, but they must remit the employee-paid taxes.
There Is No Cap on the Amount of Taxed Wages
Unlike other state insurance programs, there is no cap on wages. All wages and other compensation, including stock-based compensation, bonuses, paid time off, and severance pay, are subject to the tax. For example, an employee with wages of $75,000 will pay $435 toward the Program each year while an employee with wages of $300,000 will pay $1,740 yearly toward the Program.
Which Employees Are Subject to This Tax
All employees in Washington must pay taxes into the Program. The exceptions are self-employed individuals, employees of a federally recognized tribe, certain collectively bargained employees, and employees who qualify for an exemption (see below).
The Program says an employee is treated as employed in Washington if the employee’s service is localized in Washington or, if the service is not localized in any state, the employee performs some services in Washington and the services are directed or controlled from Washington. This definition is like the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Program.
To date, we believe this means out-of-state employers must collect and remit premiums for any employees who primarily work in Washington.
Who Is Eligible to Receive Benefits?
Benefits are limited to Washington residents who have paid premiums under the Program for either:
- A total of 10 years without interruption of five or more consecutive years; or
- Three years within the last six years from the date the application for benefits is made. Also, to qualify, an employee must have worked at least 500 hours during each of the 10 years or each of three years, as applicable.
From a practical standpoint, this means that employees who plan to retire in the next 10 years have to pay premiums, but may never qualify for the benefits. And retirees who move out of state will not qualify for the benefits.
What Are the Benefits Under the Program?
Benefits under the Program will become available January 1, 2025. If eligible, and if the Department of Social and Health Services determines that an individual needs help with at least Three Activities of Daily Living, the Program pays benefits up to $100 day, with a lifetime limit of $36,500.
Can Employees Opt Out of the Program?
Yes, an employee may opt out of the Program and its taxes and benefits if:
- The employee is 18 years old or older on the date he or she applies for the exemption, and
- The employee attests that he or she has other long-term care insurance.
To opt out, the employee must provide identification to verify his or her age and must apply for exemption with ESD between October 1, 2021, and December 31, 2022. If approved, an employee’s exemption will be effective for the quarter immediately following approval. Once an employee opts out, the employee cannot opt back into the Program. The opt-out is permanent.
When Must the Employee Have Long-Term Care Insurance in Place to Opt Out?
An employee who attests that the employee has long-term care insurance purchased before November 1, 2021, may apply for an exemption from the premium assessment under RCW 50B.04.080. This puts employees on notice that they have a very short window to buy long-term care insurance.
Opting Out of The Washington State Long-Term Care Tax
After an employee’s application for exemption is processed and approved, he or she will receive an approval letter from ESD. The employee must provide this approval letter to his or her employer. Employers must maintain copies of any approval letters received.
If an exempt employee fails to provide the approval letter to their employer, the employer must collect and remit premiums beginning January 1, 2022. An employee is not entitled to a refund of any premiums collected before the employee’s exemption took effect or before the employee provided the approval letter to their employer.
What About Employees Who Move Out of State?
Because benefits are limited to Washington residents, employees who move out of state will not be eligible to receive benefits under the Program. Employees who maintain a second home will want to consider which location will be their permanent residence.
Self-employed individuals are exempt from the Program but may choose to opt in. Under the Program, self-employed individuals must elect coverage by January 1, 2025, or within three years of becoming self-employed for the first time.
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1. 2022 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.longtermcare.acl.gov), site accessed 02/23/2022
2. Cost of Care Survey 2021 (Genworth.com), site accessed 02/23/2022
3. Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org), site accessed 02/23/2022