How One Caregiver’s Persistence Led to the Amendment of an Existing Property Tax Law in Idaho
In 2018 Jo Ann Vasko applied for the Circuit Breaker Program, an Idaho Property Tax Reduction Program, when she found herself ineligible. Jo Ann was denied for consecutive years after her payment as a Certified Family Home (CFH) was continuously counted toward her income, putting her just $4,000 above the qualifying amount.
What is a CFH? The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (2022) defines a CFH as “a home that meets approval criteria set by the State of Idaho and is certified by the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to care for between one and four adult residents who cannot live on their own”. Jo Ann is a full-time, in-home caregiver for her son and a CFH.
Only those who earn less than $32,230 a year are eligible for the Circuit Breaker Program, but those who do apply and qualify can receive up to a $1,500 reduction. For many CFHs, this savings could be the difference in the ability to continue care and a safe environment for the person they are caring for within their homes. Without this relief, CFHs and those being cared for are put at risk of losing the home they live in, potentially moving the person they care for to a facility.
Jo Ann appeared at numerous hearings to appeal the property tax decision, but it wasn’t until she attended the Idaho Family Caregiver Conference in 2020 that she had a chance to connect with Senator Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who decided to push the bill forward. In 2021 Jo Ann testified at the House Committee, alongside Senator Wintrow, Art Evans of Developmental Disability Services at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and Pam Waters of the Idaho State Tax Commission. The bill failed in the House by just two votes, but Jo Ann and Senator Wintrow didn’t quit there.
During this last 2022 legislative session, Senator Wintrow brought the bill forward again, this time as SB1259. Jo Ann, alongside Senator Wintrow and supporting organizations, testified again in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee where the committee sent it to the floor with a “do pass” recommendation. The bill passed the Senate (29-5), the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation (unanimous), and the House (51-14) where it was carried by Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa.
S1259 was signed by Governor Brad Little on March 29th, becoming law effective July 1, 2022
In addition to the bill sponsors, there were many cosponsors and supporters. “It was a wonderful and tiring experience. If you feel something isn’t right, you must find people who have the power to help,” said Jo Ann Vasko, CFH provider. “Senator Wintrow, Marilyn, and I spent a lot of time lobbying and working to get this through. I sent a lot of emails, thank yous, and even told the people who voted against that I was sorry they voted ‘no’ but thanked them for listening. Never give up,” she said.
Certified Family Home Program Manager, Steven Millward of the Department of Health and Welfare was a valuable resource to those testifying. Steven provided facts and figures on CFHs and attended committee sessions online, ready to answer any questions that may have surfaced about the CFH Program. Pam Waters of the Idaho Tax Commission was critical in helping determine the number of CFHs that would be impacted and the cost to the state.
Individuals and supporting individuals who provided testimony in 2022 include:
Jo Ann Vasko, CFH Provider
Senator Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise
Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa
Marilyn Sword, Idaho Caregiver Alliance
Christine Pisani, Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities
Françoise Cleveland, AARP Idaho
Certified Family Home Region 3 Certifying Agent, Andrew Chojnacky of the Department of Health and Welfare, assisted Jo Ann in recalling and clarifying her journey to be used as a story to share with others.
“They have said it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it took a village to get this done” – Jo Ann Vasko
If you are a CFH seeking assistance for the Circuit Breaker Program, contact your assessor’s office and get on the mailing list to receive future applications and instructions.