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Program in the works that could help 1.2 million WA workers save for retirement

  • Written by Eric Tegethoff

A program to help Washingtonians automatically save for retirement is in the final stretch in Olympia. 

The Washington Saves program created by Senate Bill 6069 passed in both chambers is awaiting concurrence. It would create an automatic savings program for workers and could benefit about 1.2 million people in the state who currently do not have access to a savings program through their work.

Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington, said many people do not think about savings in their 20s and 30s but will struggle if they only rely on Social Security when they retire.

"If people just save about $1,000 a year and they do that consistently up to the time they retire, they financially will be in a great position to actually afford their own retirement," MacCaul explained.

MacCaul noted Social Security provides $1,600 on average per month, and emphasized people are 15 times more likely to save for retirement if money is deducted automatically from their paychecks, as in the proposed program. Washington state's legislative session is scheduled to adjourn today.

Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way, was the sponsor of the House version of the Washington Saves bill. She said the program will be a boon for small businesses.

"Being able to pick out a retirement package that meets their needs is tough and quite costly if you're a small-business owner," Reeves acknowledged. "This is an opportunity for us to help ensure that both small business owners but the employees of small businesses are getting access to retirement security from the first day they start working."

A lack of savings will cost the state nearly $4 billion by 2040, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

John Scott, retirement savings project director for Pew, said the retirement savings option will help ease reliance on other programs.

"When people don't save enough for retirement, some of those folks will need some help in old age, and so they will turn to social assistance like Medicaid," Scott explained. "Anything we can do to help folks be prepared for retirement means that it'll be less of a fiscal concern for taxpayers in the state."

Fifteen states already have similar savings programs in place, including California and Oregon.