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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania should create a state-run retirement program for private sector workers to help the 2 million workers employed where retirement savings programs are not offered, a state retirement security task force report says.
The state-run retirement plan would be similar to the state-run 529 savings plans that allow parents to save for their children’s higher education, according to the report, released last week..
The 529 plans are overseen by state Treasurer Joe Torsella, He convened the retirement security task force in 2017 to come up with recommendations for how the state could help more residents financially prepare for retirement.
“Pennsylvania is facing a crisis in retirement security for private sector workers and retirees. One that — absent legislative action — will not only hit our state coffers, but also some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Torsella said in announcing the task force’s report.
Only about 1-in-20 workers without access to retirement savings at work manage to open a retirement savings account on their own, according to the AARP, which backed the task force’s recommendation for the creation of a state-run retirement program for private sector employees.
“The Treasurer’s Task Force report reinforces what we’ve been saying all along — that we need to be doing more to encourage workers to take control of their financial futures and save for retirement,” said AARP Pennsylvania State Director Bill Johnston-Walsh.
He said research shows access to a retirement plan is an essential step to increasing long-term financial security. A study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 62 percent of employees with a retirement plan had more than $25,000 in total savings and investments, and 22 percent had $100,000 or more. However, only 6 percent of those without access to such a plan had over $25,000 saved, and only 3 percent had $100,000 or more.
At least five states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Oregon — already have auto-IRA programs, according to the task force’s report.
Under these plans, the employer is required to deduct workers retirement savings and transmit it to the state-operated plan, but the employer is not required to provide any sort of financial match to the workers’ savings deduction.
Oregon was the first state to get its automatic retirement savings program up and running. In Oregon’s version of this program, more than 45,000 workers were enrolled and 1,721 employers were registered participants, as of November.
A pilot version of the Maryland program is expected to launch this summer with full implementation slated for 2020.
The task force’s report suggested that the program cover employers with five or more workers.
The Pennsylvania State Grange has come out in opposition to the proposal, saying that it shouldn’t include businesses that small.
“Policymakers have identified a problem but not the wisest solution,” said Wayne Campbell, president of the Pennsylvania State Grange, in an op-ed released by the organization.
While the plan wouldn’t require small employers to contribute, it would add administrative tasks on business likely too small to have human resources departments, he said.
The plan has garnered bipartisan backing from lawmakers in both chambers of the state Legislature, Heidi Havens, a spokeswoman for the state treasurer, said on Thursday.
Legislation to create a plan like the one proposed is expected in the state House and the state Senate though that legislation has not been unveiled. “At this time, no one has provided a co-sponsorship memo or legislation but we expect it in the near future,” she said.