Newsletter: 2022 Session, WA CARES, Environmental Action, Post-Secondary Opportunities, and more

Dear friends and neighbors,

Earlier this month we kicked off the 2022 Legislative Session. The pandemic continues to significantly impact students, families, workers, and our healthcare system resulting in workforce shortages, reduced learning options, and disproportionate impacts on those who are struggling without a safety net. During this virtual “short” session, lasting just 60 days, we are working to build on record investments and policy changes to help families stay on their feet, and to ensure a lasting recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, please see below an update to the WA Cares Fund and long-term care policy.

You can also expect us to continue addressing challenges like the threat of climate change and making college more affordable and accessible for Washington families.

Keep reading for updates on how to stay engaged this session, and on these key issues. Stay tuned for more updates as the legislative session continues.

Virtual Session

As we find ourselves in another virtual session, we’re ensuring the Legislature is more accessible than ever. All our committee hearings will be run remotely again this session, meaning you can participate in the process without having to travel to Olympia. If you’ve got questions about how to get involved this session you can check out an infographic here. You can also:

WA Cares Implementation Extension, Exemptions for Military Spouses and Disabled Veterans, No Premiums from Workers for 18 months

Last Wednesday, the legislature voted to pass some needed reforms to the WA Cares Fund, the state’s long-term care benefit for seniors and people with disabilities. HB 1732 will extend the implementation period for WA Cares, meaning workers won’t pay the premium until the Legislature finishes their work to improve the benefit next year. HB 1733 allows voluntary exemption for certain individuals, including military spouses and disabled veterans, non-immigrant visa workers, and border state workers who live outside Washington and wouldn’t qualify for WA Cares benefits. Thank you for sharing your questions, important suggestions, and concerns with my office.

Most families don’t plan for long-term care, or have any sort of insurance to protect them. That leads to them spending down savings to qualify for the state Medicaid funding for long-term care, or asking unpaid family members to care for them. Sometimes families end up selling everything they own, including their homes, to be able to qualify. This simply is a broken system and that is why we need WA Cares. This is the next step for a true social safety net that protects working families like yours and mine.

These two bills are necessary reforms to make sure WA Cares is accessible, robust, and available to you when you need it.

Protecting our Communities and Environment

We know we have a lot to do this session to protect people across Washington from the dangers of climate change and environmental pollution. This work is urgent. People of color and immigrant communities bear the brunt of both legal and illegal pollution as polluting industries are often sited in low-income areas. Already this session, the House Environment & Energy Committee has heard testimony on bills to…

  • Expand energy efficiency standards to more household appliances (HB 1619)
  • Hold oil companies accountable for the devastation they cause from oil spills (HB 1691)
  • Promote the transition from fossil fuel to electric appliances in our homes and buildings (HB 1767)
  • Reduce methane emissions, a more potent greenhouse gas than even carbon dioxide, from our landfills (HB 1663)
  • Restrict the use of PFAS and other toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in many of the products we use every day (HB 1694)

…and much more.

The Legislature made great strides last year to protect our communities, reduce our impact on the environment, and slow the march of climate change — I’m eager to keep that momentum going!

Growing Opportunity for Washington Students

Last session I took on a new leadership role in the Legislature as the Chair of the College and Workforce Development Committee. Our committee work this session will be focused on helping post-secondary education recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education, apprenticeships, and other credentials give students a path to a more secure future, these options should be available and affordable for everyone. With declines in financial aid applications and lower enrollment & retention rates, we must act this session to make sure that low-income students, students of color, and older, returning students are not let behind.

The Washington College Grant is our state’s largest financial aid program and it has received national attention as “the most equity-focused free college program in the country”. I’m sponsoring legislation  (HB 1659) to build on the success of that program by raising the grant amount for students, and by enacting “Bridge Grants” of $1,000 a year for students at or below 70 percent of the median family income.

We’ve heard over and over again that the cost of attendance is so much more than tuition. This funding would help pay for housing, childcare, food, transportation, and other costs that prevent people from achieving a credential.

COVID-19 Update and Testing Resources

The recent spike in cases due to the Omicron variant has increased the pressure on an already exhausted health care system in Washington state. Hospitals across the state are operating at full capacity, and Gov. Jay Inslee has announced several measures to help increase that capacity.

Taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 is as important as ever. I know this is hard to hear as we near the end of our second year dealing with this pandemic, but our efforts have saved lives and can save more.

In addition to the Biden Administration’s efforts to distribute rapid, at-home tests for free through the USPS, the Washington State Department of Health has also opened a portal for Washington residents to request additional at-home rapid tests for free. More information is available here.

If you need to schedule a vaccination or booster you can do that here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. Your emails, calls and outreach help me make sure I’m centering my work in the values of our community. Please keep in touch.

With thanks and appreciation,