Read the full story at Lancaster Online
Whether it’s dealing with the state retirement crisis or trying to cut down student debt, Joe Torsella has kept busy in his first year and a half as Pennsylvania treasurer.
Torsella on Thursday sat down with the LNP Editorial Board to discuss some of his accomplishments so far and goals he hopes to reach before his term ends in 2020.
Here are five takeaways from the interview.
Torsella plugged a pilot program he launched in February, called Keystone Scholars, which created a $100 college savings account for every child born in Delaware, Elk, Indiana, Luzerne, Mifflin and Westmoreland counties starting Jan. 1 of this year.
More than $2 million in private funds was raised to support the program, which aims to get parents started early in saving for their children’s education. Torsella said he hopes to soon expand the program to all Pennsylvania children to help pay for post-secondary education.
Torsella said Pennsylvania leads the nation in average student debt for college graduates, at $38,000.
“This is not something we want to say we’re number one about,” he said.
One initiative Pennsylvania has displayed leadership in is its Pennsylvania ABLE — Achieving a Better Life Experience — Savings Program, Torsella said.
Following passage of the federal ABLE Act, Gov. Tom Wolf in 2016 signed the PA ABLE Act. It opens the door for people with qualified disabilities to open tax-exempt savings accounts that can be used for a wide-range of disability-related expenses without jeopardizing important government benefits such as Medical Assistance and Supplemental Social Security Income.
Torsella said 2,200 families statewide — and about 70 in Lancaster County — have taken advantage of the program.
Another topic heavy on Torsella’s mind is retirement savings, he said.
“We have a looming retirement crisis in Pennsylvania,” he said, adding that one in three Pennsylvanians don’t save a dime for retirement.
A potential solution, he said, would be to implement an automatic enrollment, payroll-deduction individual retirement account program, otherwise known as an auto-IRA.
The state would ask private-sector employers to offer a retirement plan to employees, whether a 401(k) or the auto-IRA. Those who opt for the auto-IRA would only need to facilitate a payroll deduction.
The state treasury’s office is holding onto $3 billion in unclaimed property, Torsella said.
Thanks to a website that makes it easy to find and claim missing funds, Pennsylvania has returned $250 million in property to its rightful owners. The average return, he said, was worth $1,500. The website can be found at bit.ly/UnclaimedPropertyPA.
Also in its inventory is about 500 military medals — left in places such as safety deposit boxes or retirement homes — for which the treasurer’s office is seeking owners.
Integrity of office
Also on Torsella’s to-do list is to continue efforts to restore the integrity of his office, he said.
Former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer, who served from 1997 to 2005, was sentenced last year to 36 months of probation for lying to the FBI during a federal pay-to-play investigation.
Rob McCord, who served as state treasurer from 2009 to 2015, resigned in the middle of his second term after pleading guilty in 2015 to trying to extort campaign donations.