The chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee has released a new legislative framework for the 117th Congress that includes an ambitious retirement policy agenda.
In what has long been a priority for him, Committee chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) is calling for implementation of auto-IRAs and auto-401(k)s as part of the framework. He also calls for making the Saver’s Credit refundable and building on changes from the SECURE Act.
“Congress must do more to help American families, especially minority families, have a secure and dignified retirement,” the framework states. “Social Security provides the foundation of retirement security, and its benefits must be strengthened and improved, particularly for low-wage workers.
“Beyond Social Security, families of color are far less likely to have retirement savings and access to employer-based retirement plans,” Neal adds. “Policies to remedy these inequities will help increase their savings for retirement.”
Prepared by the Committee’s Democratic staff with an eye towards reducing health and economic inequities in the United States, the report—“A Bold Vision for a Legislative Path Toward Health and Economic Equity”—lays out the policy priorities that will steer the Committee’s work in the new Congress. Retirement security is enumerated as part of the framework’s economic equity pillar.
The retirement security items included in Ways & Means framework include:
- Strengthen and improve Social Security benefits, particularly for low-wage workers.
- Protect Social Security disability benefits from any efforts to reduce access to benefits.
- Implement automatic IRAs and 401(k)s, and require automatic enrollment in 401(k)-type plans.
- Make the Saver’s Credit refundable and direct the Treasury Department to raise awareness of the credit, especially in minority communities.
- Help families accumulate emergency savings while increasing targeted financial wellness advice.
- Create child savings accounts.
- Adjust the new part-time workers in 401(k) plans provision to require only two years of service.
- Make it easier for military spouses to save within their employer retirement plans.
- Ensure that small businesses can take full advantage of the start-up credit when participating in a multiple employer plan (MEP).
- Direct the Treasury Dept. to provide education to small businesses about the advantages and availability of MEPs and groups of plans.
- Assess the impacts that trade policies have on the ability of American families to plan for and enjoy a secure and dignified retirement.
An accompanying report, “Something Must Change: Inequities in U.S. Policy and Society,” provides the context on which members’ legislative priorities are based.
“There is no silver bullet to correct the inequities that are 400 years in the making and deeply ingrained in our systems, institutions, and laws,” Chairman Neal writes. “The framework we present here is Ways and Means Committee Democrats’ plan to make our nation a more just and equitable place. Some actions we can pursue almost immediately. Other advancements may take longer to become law. But inaction is not an option. Complacency cannot be tolerated,” he says.
What Does This Mean?
Last October, Neal introduced the “Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020” (dubbed “SECURE Act 2.0”) with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the committee, as part of an effort to build on the SECURE Act. That bill will have to be reintroduced in the 117th Congress, but with both Neal and Brady serving as original cosponsors, that lends itself to bipartisan cooperation on retirement security legislation—which is one of the few areas where that is expected.
While some of the items outlined above are contained in the SECURE 2.0 legislation, it’s less clear whether Brady would support some of these initiatives. With tight majorities in both the House and Senate, compromise will be key. Still, with Neal serving as chairman and controlling the agenda, look for upcoming hearings on these initiatives, as well as the introduction of legislation and a push to have them passed in the House.