BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
Legislation to provide property tax relief for operators of certified family care homes for people with disabilities has passed the Legislature after two years of attempts, and is headed to the governor's desk.
The Idaho House passed SB 1259 late Friday on a 51-14 vote; it had earlier passed the Senate, 29-5.
Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, has pushed for the bill for the past two years, but last year it died by one vote in the House.
Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, the bill’s House sponsor, told the House on Friday that the bill will help the state’s most vulnerable people be cared for in a home-like setting, rather than being institutionalized.
Currently, caregivers who receive Medicaid payments for operating certified care homes, which can be for up to four patients, are disqualified from the "circuit breaker," the small property tax reduction Idaho provides to qualifying low-income seniors. SB 1259 exempts those Medicaid payments from the income calculation for circuit-breaker eligibility; the care home operators still have to meet all other circuit breaker eligibility requirements.
“They get paid for six and a half hours a day, but this is a 24-hour job,” Adams told the House.
The bill passed with no debate. But earlier, in the Senate, there was an extended and overwhelmingly positive debate about the good the change could do and how much it potentially could save the state.
Wintrow said in a news release after the vote Friday that in order to keep people with disabilities out of institutions, Idaho is one of many states that allows someone to become licensed to care for a person in their home. The in-home caregiver is compensated, and receives an average of $54 per day from Medicaid.
Currently, that money isn’t considered income by federal standards. Wintrow said it doesn’t make sense for the state of Idaho to be more onerous than the federal government in how it treats that income.
Institutionalized nursing care costs $273 per day, or about $100,000 annually, according to the Idaho Division of Medicaid. Currently, roughly 3,000 Idaho residents, most of them adults with developmental disabilities, receive in-home care in a certified family home. If all were institutionalized, that cost would be about $300 million per year.
The bill was supported by the AARP, the Idaho Caregivers Alliance, and the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities.
Wintrow said the issue first came to her attention in 2020 at an annual caregivers conference, when she spoke with JoAnn Vasko, who owns a certified-family home in Nampa and is a full-time, in-home caregiver for her son.
“That conversation with JoAnn led me to the state Tax Commission and the Department of Health and Welfare to learn the scope of the issue. And after a two-year push, we finally got it,” Wintrow said. “I’m honored to have worked with so many people to get to this point, and hope it’ll receive the governor’s signature, so we can give our in-home caregivers much-needed property tax relief. This approach saves a lot of money and keeps people in a home setting — the best of both worlds.”
SB 1259 had 23 legislative co-sponsors from both houses and both parties, including 13 Treasure Valley lawmakers.
The 13 were: Sens. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa; Abby Lee, R-Fruitland; Fred Martin, R-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise; and Carrie Semmelroth, D-Boise; and Reps. Brooke Green, D-Boise; Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell; Lauren Necochea, D-Boise; Sue Chew, D-Boise; Brent Crane, R-Nampa; Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa; and Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton.
The 14 "no" votes on the bill in the House all came from House Republicans, including five from the Treasure Valley. They were Reps. Greg Ferch, R-Boise; Scott Syme, R-Caldwell; Jason Monks, R-Meridian; Joe Palmer, R-Meridian; and Steven Harris, R-Meridian.
In the Senate, the five "no" votes included three Treasure Valley senators: Sens. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian; Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; and Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
Watch more Idaho politics:
See all of our latest political coverage in our YouTube playlist: