“Secure Choice” will help saving for retirement

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  



Social Security has new, easier to use website

Published in RINewsToday on January 30, 2023

Over a month ago, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) launched a redesigned website to assist beneficiaries to find what they need more easily. New pages and improvements based on public feedback will continue to be unveiled in the coming months. You may have already received an email to check out your new personal account page, though not everyone has yet.

SSA.gov is visited by over 180 million people per year and it is one of our most important tools for providing efficient and equitable access to service,” said Kilolo Kijakazi, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, in a December. 6, 2022 statement announcing this redesign. “Whether providing service in person or online, our goal is to help people understand what they may qualify for and seamlessly transition them to an application process.” Improved self-service capability allows people to skip calling or visiting an office, which helps Social Security staff focus on those visitors who need in-person assistance,” she says.

Kijakazi noted that the redesign will make it easier to do business with the federal agency. “Its redesign is intended to provide a clear path to the tasks customers need to accomplish,” she said, noting that many of the most visited sections of SSA.gov are now live with a more user-friendly and task-based approach.

According to SSA, visitors to SSA.gov can use interactive tools to check eligibility for benefits.  The screener is a convenient and simple way for people to learn if they might be eligible for benefits.

Beneficiaries can also save time on Social Security Number (SSN) and card online services, too.  If a beneficiary loses their SSN card, they may not need a replacement. In most cases, simply knowing their SSN is enough. If a person does need a replacement card, they may be able to request a replacement online by visiting www.ssa.gov/ssnumber.

Individuals can also start an application for an updated card or request an SSN for the first time. People may never need to visit an office and, if they do need to visit an office to complete the application, they will save a lot of time by starting online.

People can also apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on line by starting an application and requesting an appointment to apply for SSI benefits by just answering a few questions at www.ssa.gov/benefits/ssi/.

Finally, for most benefits, people can apply online or start an application online. In many cases, there are no forms to sign. The agency will review the application and reach out with questions or for more information. Visit www.ssa.gov/onlineservices to apply for retirement, disability, or Medicare.

Many Social Security services do not require the public to take time to visit an office. Using a my Social Security account, a personalized online service, people can start or change direct deposit, or request a replacement SSA-1099. For individuals already receiving Social Security benefits, they can print or download a current Benefit Verification Letter if they need proof of their benefits.

People not yet receiving benefits can use their online account to get a personalized Social Security Statement, which provides their earnings information as well as estimates of their future benefits. The portal also includes a retirement calculator and links to information about other online services. SSA encourages people without a my Social Security account to create one today at www.ssa.gov/myaccount/. This part of the site is operational 5am to 1am, Monday through Friday – 5am to 11pm on Saturday – 8am to 11:30pm on Sunday.

One thing pandemic times have done is make us more proficient in the computer and using online services, and those who run official sites have focused on making them simpler, and easier to use.

“There’s a New Sheriff in Town” at SSA

Published in RINewsToday on June 20, 2020

On June President Joe Biden has asked two political holdovers from the President Trump’s administration, Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul and his deputy, David Black, who had previously served as the agency’s top lawyer, to resign. Saul ultimately was fired after refusing to resign Friday, July 9, while Black resigned upon the president’s request that day. 

Biden named as acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, whom he earlier had appointed to a lower-level Social Security Administration (SSA) position, deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy. 

The White House affirmed its authority to “remove the SSA Commissioner at will” by citing a Supreme Court ruling and a legal opinion from the Justice Department. Previously, under statute, the president could only remove the SSA commissioner for “neglect of duty” or “malfeasance in office.”

Saul’s term as Social Security Administrator ended in 2025 and according to The Washington Post, he states he plans to dispute the White House firing and continue to work remotely at his New York City home.

“I consider myself the term-protected commissioner of Social Security,” Saul told The Washington Post, calling the attempt to unseat him a “Friday Night Massacre.”

Minority Members of Senate Aging Committee Oppose Firing

Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Marco Rubio (R-Fla..), Mike Braun (R-Ind..), Rick Scott (R-Fla..), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) sent a letter July 14 to President Biden urging him to reinstate and honor the Senate confirmed, six-year term of Saul as SSA Commissioner. 

Members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging find the politically motivated action especially worrisome as it will have drastic effects on SSA services that help millions of older Americans with basic expenses like housing, food and medicine. 

The letter explains “Commissioner Saul was confirmed by the Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in 2019… led the agency through one of the most trying periods in its history during the COVID-19 pandemic… was confirmed by the Senate to serve a full six-year term that expires in 2025 and he should have remained in his position unless removed for cause, as written in federal law.

The committee requested the Biden administration explain what authority an acting commissioner—not confirmed by the Senate—would possess to carry out the statutorily obligated duties of the SSA commissioner. 

 On the Other Side of the Aisle…

“From the beginning of their tenure at the Social Security Administration Andrew Saul and David Black were anti-beneficiary and anti-employee. The Biden Administration made the right move to fire both Saul and Black after they refused to resign, says chairperson John B. Larson (D-CT), of the House Ways and Means Social Security Committee, who had called for Saul and Black’s removal in March 2021. “As [Supreme Court] Justice Alito recently stated, the president needs someone running the agency who will follow their policy agenda,” he says.

According to Larson, since June 17, 2019, Saul’s control over SSA policies have “disproportionately harmed vulnerable Americans like low-income seniors and persons with disabilities, immigrants and people of color.

During Saul’s tenure, Larson noted that the SSA implemented a new rule that denied disability benefits for older, severely disabled workers who are unable to communicate in English, resulting in approximately 100,000 people being denied more than $5 billion in benefits from 2020 to 2029. However, there has been considerable discussion of the misinterpretation of the intent of this change.

SSA also finalized a new regulation that dramatically reduced due process protections for Social Security appeals hearings, by allowing the SSA to use agency attorneys instead of independent judges for the hearings, says Larson.

Larson also expressed concern about SSA proposing to change the disability review process to cut off benefits for some eligible people and proposing to make it significantly harder for older, severely disabled workers to be found eligible for disability benefits. 

According to Larson, Saul also advanced the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies by resuming “no-match letters” to employers with even minor discrepancies between their wage reports and their employees’ Social Security records. These letters effectively serve to harass immigrants and their employers, often leading to U.S. citizens and work-authorized immigrants being fired, he said.

Finally, Larson charged that Saul embraced the Trump Administration’s anti-federal employee policies, including forcing harsh union contracts that strip employees of rights and ending telework for thousands of employees just months before the COVID-19 pandemic started – a particularly ill-fated decision given the critical role telework has played in SSA’s ability to continue serving the public during the pandemic. 

Thumbs Up from Aging Advocacy Groups 

“The Social Security Commissioner should reflect the values and priorities of President Biden, which include improving benefits, extending solvency, improving customer services, reopening field offices, and treating SSA employees and their unions fairly. That was not the case with former Commissioner Saul, and we look forward to President Biden nominating someone who meets that standard,” says Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Adds Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works: “Today is a great day for every current and future Social Security beneficiary. Andrew Saul and David Black were appointed by former President Donald Trump to undermine Social Security. They’ve done their very best to carry out that despicable mission. That includes waging a war on people with disabilities, demoralizing the agency’s workforce, and delaying President Biden’s stimulus checks.”  

Introducing New SSA Commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi…

Kilolo Kijakazi has a Ph.D. in public policy from George Washington University, an MSW from Howard University, and a BA from SUNY Binghamton University. Kijakazi’s Urban Institute bio notes that she served as an Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute, where she “worked with staff across the organization to develop collaborative partnerships with those most affected by economic and social issues, to expand and strengthen Urban’s agenda of rigorous research, to effectively communicate findings to diverse audiences and to recruit and retain a diverse research staff at all levels” while conducting research on economic security, structural racism, and the racial wealth gap. 

Kijakazi was previously employed as a program officer at the Ford Foundation, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a program analyst at the Food Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture, and an analyst at the National Urban League.

According to Wikipedia, before entering the Biden administration, Kijakazi was a board member of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the National Academy of Social Insurance and its Study Panel on Economic Security, the Policy Academies and Liberation in a Generation, as well as a member of the DC Equitable Recovery Advisory Group, adviser to Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap, co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Eliminating the Black-White Wealth Gap at the Center for American Progress, and member of the Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings at the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

“Kilolo has an amazing ability to find and build connections among individuals and institutions that should be working together on critical public policy issues and policy discussions are much better for that inclusionary approach,” says Margaret Simms, an Institute Fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute.