Retirement savings bill re-introduced in House with bipartisan backing

RESA measure would help small businesses offer 401(k) plans, ease use of annuities

Feb 6, 2019 @ 2:34 pm

By Mark Schoeff Jr.

Legislation that would help small businesses offer retirement plans to their employees and ease the use of annuities in them was re-introduced in the House on Wednesday with bipartisan backing.

The Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act contains several provisions designed to increase the number of workers covered by workplace programs, according to a summary of the measure.

The bill would allow small employers to band together to sponsor plans, clarify how plan sponsors can satisfy their fiduciary responsibilities surrounding the use of annuities in 401(k)s, expand auto-enrollment and auto-escalation, and provide lifetime income estimates to participants.

Parts of the measure were included in legislation lawmakers hoped would be approved last December in the lame duck session of Congress. But it failed to get traction and died.

The bill was re-introduced with bipartisan authors, Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wisc., and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., as the House Ways and Means Committee conducted a hearing Wednesday on retirement security.

"Hopefully we can find an early date this year to move forward," Mr. Kind said at the hearing.

Companies that provide annuities and insurance industry lobbyists were strong proponents of the bill last year and are eager to support it again.

Roger Crandall, chairman and chief executive of Mass Mutual Life Insurance Co., was a witness at the hearing and said the bill would decrease the costs of offering retirement plans for small employers and give them more certainty when they include annuities.

"This is excellent bipartisan, bicameral legislation," he said.

In a recent letter to Mr. Kind and Mr. Kelly, the Insured Retirement Institute urged speedy action.

"RESA will provide Americans with common-sense measures to help them address the challenges and overcome the obstacles they face as they plan and save for their retirement," wrote Wayne Chopus, president and chief executive of IRI. "We would urge you and all your colleagues in the House to advance this legislation quickly for consideration."

The committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., who has made increasing retirement savings a signature issue, called the bill a "solid starting point."

Wednesday's hearing "is a great example of how dedicated [Mr. Neal] is to retirement policy issues and to getting bills like this over the finish line," said Chris Spence, senior director of government relations at TIAA.

A companion bill has not yet been introduced in the Senate.

In the previous Congress, then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, former Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the panel's current ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., wrote a RESA bill.

Mr. Spence anticipates Senate action.

"We're all confident it will be [introduced]," he said.

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