American workers are facing an enormous retirement savings deficit. In Michigan, nearly 1.7 million workers have jobs where the employer does not offer a retirement savings plan.
In response to this shortfall, two Democrats in Lansing introduced legislation that would set up an alternative statewide retirement savings plan for employees of businesses who do not have a plan of their own.
The program would not be mandatory; workers who did not want to participate could opt out. Other states, including California, Maryland, and Washington have passed similar legislation.
Now, these types of “auto-IRA” retirement savings programs face a challenge from an unlikely foe: Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg, R-7.
Earlier this month, Walberg put forward a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to rescind Obama-era Labor Department rules allowing states to create such programs.
Walberg said the action was meant to protect people saving for retirement by closing a “regulatory loophole that would be detrimental to the retirement security of hardworking Americans.”
Stateside reached out to Rep. Walberg, but his office declined our request for an interview.
Those same concerns have not been raised by retiree advocacy organizations such as the AARP, which has voiced support for state-run retirement savings programs.
“The private financial industry has lobbied against these plans in states across the country, in part because the financial industry could potentially lose business or face more competition for its services from these public option, publicly-administered plans,” Sirota said. “Congressman Walberg has gotten a significant amount of campaign contributions from the financial industry.”
In his report on Walberg’s resolution, Sirota found that the insurance and investment industries have contributed more than half a million dollars to Walberg's political campaigns during the course of his career.
State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, is one of the co-sponsors of the proposed legislation in Michigan. He believes the federal government should not prevent states from creating their own retirement savings programs.
“It’s sad to see that we have a U.S. Congressman that would want to block to have the state’s right to operate any type of a program to make our residents be in a better spot for retirement, to be able to encourage people to save money,” Dianda said. “So I find it kind of bad that Congressman Walberg would want to hinder our state’s right under the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, Walberg’s resolution was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
Hear our full interviews with Rep. Scott Dianda and David Sirota, investigations editor of the International Business Times at the top of the page.