Rhode Island moves to assist in planning for retirement with Secure Choice – Herb Weiss

Rhode Island now one of 19 other states to help private-sector workers save for retirement.

By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues

An AARP study recently released tells us that it’s not easy being in your 50s and not having planned for your retirement. According to the study’s findings, 20% of adults ages 50+ have no retirement savings, and more than half (61%) are worried they will not have enough money to support them in retirement. The survey’s findings indicate a decline in the overall sense of financial security among men, 42% of whom describe their financial situation as “fair” or “poor,” up from 34% in the beginning of 2022. However, roughly 40% of men who are regularly saving for retirement believe they are saving enough, compared to just 30% of women.

Retirement not an option for many

“Every adult in America deserves to retire with dignity and financial security. Yet far too many people lack access to retirement savings options and this, coupled with higher prices, is making it increasingly hard for people to choose when to retire,” said Indira Venkateswaran, AARP Senior Vice President of Research in an April 24 statement announcing the findings of the retirement survey. “Everyday expenses continue to be the top barrier to saving more for retirement, and some older Americans say that they never expect to retire,” says Venkateswaran.

Credit card debt is out of control, say the researchers. Nearly one-third (30%) of older adults who carry over a credit card balance from month-to-month report carrying a balance of $10K or more, while 12% described their balance as $20K or more, up from 8% roughly a year ago, they say.

Despite this, 33% of respondents ages 50+ believe their finances will be better 12 months from now, but the lingering effects of inflation and high costs are still apparent to them.

More than one-third (37%) of the respondents worry about covering basic expenses, such as food and housing. More than 26% worry about covering family caregiving costs. The survey’s findings indicate that seven in 10 (70%) worry about prices rising faster than their income. Over 26 % of people who are not yet retired say they expect to never retire.  No rocking chairs on the porch or travel for these individuals.

Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, warns that the nation faces a “serious retirement crisis.”  She says, “AARP has a long history of supporting legislation to expand access to retirement savings, but Congress must act more swiftly to provide the financial support older Americans need and deserve.”

Congress is currently considering different pieces of legislation that would expand retirement security, including the bipartisan Retirement Savings for Americans Act of 2023, which would provide retirement savings accounts to eligible workers without employer-sponsored retirement plans, and the Automatic IRA Act of 2024

LeaMond says that AARP has successfully worked with 19 states to create state programs to make it easier for people whose employers don’t offer a retirement plan to be able to save for their future. “But about two-thirds of states have yet to act, and we await action from the federal government,” says LeaMond.

Americans are 15 times more likely to save for retirement when they have access to a workplace plan. Yet nearly 57 million seniors do not have access to a retirement plan at work, according to AARP. Eight states have auto-IRA programs up and running: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Oregon, and Virginia, while Massachusetts has a multiple employer plan in place. Ten other states have passed legislation and are at various stages of implementation, including Washington, where auto-IRA legislation was signed into law last month.  

Rhode Island now joins the ranks, offering auto-IRA programs

Over two months after the release of AARP’s retirement study, on June 27, with Gov. Dan McKee signing legislation (S 2045 aa, H 7127 aa), Rhode Island joins 19 other states in enacting legislation to help private-sector workers save for retirement through their jobs.

Rhode Island’s retirement legislation was introduced by Sen. Meghan Kallman (Dist. 15, Providence, Pawtucket) and Rep. Evan P. Shanley (Dist. 24, Warwick).

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the auto-IRA programs are small businesses and their employees. Approximately 70% of workers at companies with fewer than ten employees have no access to retirement savings through work.

“Most of us will reach an age when we will want to stop working, however, for thousands of workers in Rhode Islander this is not an option because they do not have money set aside for retirement,” said Kallman. “Secure Choice is a convenient, portable, voluntary IRA managed by the state that works directly through workers’ jobs; essentially a public-option IRA for those whose employers do not offer one,” she says.

Adds Shanley, “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. 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 said.

“Hardworking Rhode Islanders deserve to retire with dignity and that is why we are thrilled to celebrate the passage of Secure Choice,” said Catherine Taylor, AARP Rhode Island state director.

“The bill passed with strong bipartisan support after four years of AARP advocacy,” adds Matthew Netto, AARP Rhode Island advocacy director. The state is eyeing a 2026 launch of the program, which is still in the planning stages.

The Secure Choice Program would create a state sponsored retirement savings program (Auto-IRA) that will be accessible to the over 172,000 private sector employees in Rhode Island that do not have access to a plan through their employer.

Secure Choice is designed to be no cost and liability free for businesses. Employees would be automatically enrolled with the ability to opt out anytime. The savings would belong to the employee – they would be able to choose how much to contribute via automatic payroll deduction and take it with them from job to job.

The Rhode Island Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program, the state’s auto-IRA plan administered by the office of the General Treasurer, would see retirement savings accumulated in individual accounts for the exclusive benefit of the participants or their beneficiaries. Private employees who do not already offer a retirement plan would be required to offer workers access to the Secure Choice program.

Secure Choice a great investment for Rhode Island

Under the enacted legislation, Rhode Island General Treasurer James A. Diossa, would be charged with administering contributions through payroll deductions and investing these funds in accordance with best practice for retirement savings vehicles. The act would become effective for all eligible employers within 36 months of the opening of the program enrollment following a phased implementation period.

“The Secure Choice Act is a great investment in Rhode Island families,” said Diossa. “For too long, more than 40% of private sector employees in the state have lacked the assurance of adequate retirement savings. Secure Choice will help transform the retirement landscape by offering the opportunity to prepare for retirement,” he says.

Said Kristina Contreras Fox, director of policy and advocacy at the Rhode Island Black Business Association, “The Rhode Island Black Business Association is thrilled to see our General Assembly take bold action in supporting robust small business growth and closing the racial wealth gap by passing the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Act. “Small business owners have advocated for years in support of this legislation since it will help them recruit talented workers looking for good jobs not only with a living wage but also strong benefits,” she said, noting that for minority entrepreneurs, the passage of this bill also brings an added measure of support for their families.

AARP has a tool that can help calculate how much you will need in retirement with a personalized snapshot.  Go to


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Herb Weiss

Herb Weiss, LRI -12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 43 years. To purchase his books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly and a sequel, compiling weekly published articles, go to

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