Published in RINewsToday on February 20, 2023
Most Rhode Islanders save for retirement through an employer-based plan such as a pension or 401(k). But 172,000 Rhode Island workers (roughly 40 percent of the state’s workforce) do not have access to this crucial savings tool. At a Feb. 14, 2023 press conference held at the State Library, Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Pawtucket, Providence) and Rep. Evan Shanley (D-Warwick, East Greenwich) were joined by General Treasurer James A. Diossa, and advocates calling for a policy fix by enacting a program called “Secure Choice.” These advocates were invited to publicly give their support: Catherine Taylor, State Director of AARP Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Black Business Association, Progreso Latino and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
During early February, S 0089 and H 5417 were introduced by Sen. Meghan Kallman (D-Pawtucket, Providence) and Rep. Shanley (D-Warwick, East Greenwich) to allow employees to take their savings with them when they change jobs. The Senate and House proposals were referred to the Senate Finance and House Committees in their respective chambers.
At press time, Kallman withdrew S 0089 to redraft it to match the House version. It will be reintroduced after Feb. 28 when the Rhode Island lawmakers come back from recess. At this time, the General Assembly’s House and Senate GOP caucus have no position on these legislative proposals.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to help workers save for retirement,” said Kallman, the press conference announcing the introduction of the Secure Choice legislative proposals. “The evidence is really clear: giving workers access to pre-tax payroll deductions is the best way to encourage retirement savings. And having those savings is a big part of being able to live a comfortable and healthy retirement, which is what we want for everyone in our community,” she said.
“When I talk to small businesses in my community, they really care about their staff and want their workers to be able to save for retirement,” said Shanley, primary sponsor of the House companion measure. “But small business owners can’t be experts in everything and often don’t know where to start with offering retirement savings. This bill gives them a way to support their workers and gives workers a chance to save,” he says.
“Too many employees across the state are working day and night without the assurance of a solid financial future,” said Treasurer Diossa. “By providing workers with an optional retirement plan, the Secure Choice Act is a prime example of how government can improve the lives of workers. We must fulfill the fundamental promise that a lifetime of hard work will be met with a retirement of dignity and security.”
Taking a Look at the Nuts and Bolts
“Most Rhode Island workers hope to retire someday,” said Catherine Taylor, State Director of AARP RI in supporting the passage of the Secure Choice legislative proposals that tie nicely into AARP’s mission to “empower people to choose how we live as we age.”
According to Taylor, Secure Choice provides a “simple and easy way to save to the over 172,000 private sector employees in Rhode Island who currently do not have access to a way to save through their work.” That is about 40 percent of Rhode Island’s private sector workers, she says, noting that this percentage includes workers at all levels of earnings, education, and backgrounds.
“All of them would benefit from the ability to use payroll deduction to save for retirement. People are 15 times more likely to save if it can be done out of their regular paycheck. 20 times more likely if this can be done automatically,” she added, stressing that this program would be easy for employees of Rhode Island’s small businesses to participate in. It’s also free for employers.
At last Tuesday’s press conference, Taylor noted that AARP’s mission is to “empower people to choose how we live as we age.”
“Saving for retirement is critical because those savings mean financial resilience and empowerment for older Rhode Islanders. Many older Rhode Islanders who did not save for retirement are living solely off Social Security and have few options as to where and how they age. For older Rhode Islanders to thrive it is important to have access to a simple and easy way to save for retirement during our working years,” says Taylor.
Taylor states that passage of Secure Choice will give all workers the chance to begin saving for their retirement, giving them a way to retire with more security.
By the numbers…
In May 2022 AARP Rhode Island surveyed 502 small Rhode Island businesses and the results showed that 72 percent of these small business owners were supportive of a privately managed, ready-to-go retirement savings option that would help them offer employees a way to save for retirement. The study, released on July 2022, found that 81 percent – https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/economics/info-2022/rhode-island-retirement-savings-small-business-owners.html – of the respondents agreed that the lawmakers should pass a bill to make it easier for small business owners to access a retirement savings option for their employees and themselves.
“Secure Choice is all about choice and control. It is voluntary for employees: how much you save, if at all, is entirely up to you, as are the investments you choose. Employers need only pass on information from the program and add a payroll deduction option, says AARP’s Taylor, stressing that they can open an alternative plan of their choosing at any time.
Taylor notes that Sixteen states have enacted similar programs. Eight of those programs are open for business and have over 634,000 funded accounts and $662 million in assets under management as of December. Over 30 states recently acted to study program options or consider legislation., she said.
Legislative proposals to create a Secure Choice program were introduced in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. During this legislative session, now is the time for lawmakers to push the legislative proposal to the goal line for passage.
Taylor sees a positive impact on the state’s budget if the Secure Choice is passed and signed into law by Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee. “When more people save for retirement, it decreases reliance on public assistance, having an enormously positive effect on the state’s balance sheet,” she said stressing that it’s sound fiscal policy for state. AARP Rhode Island will be releasing a fiscal impact analysis on Feb. 28, that is being prepared by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Stay tuned.
A broad coalition of aging advocacy groups from across the state support Secure Choice, including AARP Rhode Island, the Latino Policy Institute, SEIU, Progreso Latino, Working Families Party, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Economic Policy Institute, and the Rhode Island Black Business Association.
To watch the Secure Choice Press Conference, held on Feb. 14, 2023, go to
To read Aug. 2022 Fact Sheet: Rhode Island detailing the benefits of enacting enabling Rhode Islanders to save for their retirement, go to
To read AARP Director Catherine Taylor’s Op Ed, “We Need Secure Choice”, go to