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Washington

State Aging Agenda Seeks Funding for Senior Services

Nearly 20 percent of residents will be over 65 by 2030

Caregiver Margaret Sweasy sits for a portrait in her home, WA State News

Caregiver Margaret Sweasy wants to see an increase in funding for home care and adult day health programs in Washington state. — José Mandojana

Maggie Sweasy knows both personally and professionally why it's important to support people who provide care for aging loved ones who have physical or cognitive disabilities.

Sweasy, 69, of Puyallup, took care of her late mother-in-law, who suffered from severe dementia, and is taking care of her 83-year-old husband, who has cognitive impairment.

"All caregivers need respite care so they can have an emotional break," said Sweasy, a community activist on aging issues. "Fortunately, the state has begun to realize how much it can save by supporting caregivers, [thereby] keeping people out of nursing homes. But you worry that as times get tougher, these things will slowly be cut out of the budget."

She's urging the state to increase funding for educating caregivers and providing respite care and Meals on Wheels, while restoring funding for home care and adult day health programs. That's in line with AARP Washington's comprehensive "2013 Washington State Aging Agenda (pdf)," which it hopes new Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee will embrace.

Reforming tax policies

By 2030, nearly 20 percent of Washington residents will be 65 or older. AARP Washington wants state officials to develop policies to support this growing population in the areas of health care, long-term care services and supports, protections for vulnerable adults, financial security, housing and transportation. A key will be reforming state tax policies to adequately fund these services.

Ingrid McDonald, AARP Washington advocacy director, said the aging agenda is intended as a "wake-up call" to state policymakers. "How do we prepare for a very different Washington, where one of five people will be 65-plus, and the 85-plus group will triple by 2060?" she said. "We have to focus now."

Inslee has agreed to an AARP Washington request to hold an aging issues summit in the first six months of his administration. He says he backs key parts of the AARP agenda.

"Not only will we have more seniors, but they will be living longer," Inslee said in a written statement to the Bulletin. "It's unquestionably in our long-term interest to prepare for that by ensuring a strong network of health services and doing all we can to help people save and prepare for retirement."

In addition to preserving robust long-term services and supports for families, McDonald said the state needs to fully implement the federal health care reform law by expanding Medicaid and creating a state health insurance exchange. That would extend affordable health care to an estimated 167,000 uninsured Washingtonians ages 50 to 64. Inslee has promised to do that.

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