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House Subcommittee Highlights Retirement Plan Challenges
 

By SHRM Online staff  6/17/2011

A hearing by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held June 14, 2011, reviewed the state of employer-provided retirement plans in the U.S. and challenges facing plan sponsors, workers and retirees.

"Roughly 60 million workers participate in an employment-based retirement plan," said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who chairs the subcommittee. "They, like so many Americans, have felt the impact of the recent recession and continue to experience tough times during this slow economy."

Expert witnesses described the difficulties confronting plans, including:

The 2008-09 recession. "The impact of the recession and financial crisis on retirement security is twofold," said Alex Brill, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "A decline in retirement assets, or the failure for assets to increase in value as expected, has left many workers and retirees with less than anticipated. Some older workers have chosen to remain in the workforce longer to offset the decline in retirement assets, but the overall unemployment rate of older workers remains high relative to pre-recession levels. And younger workers unable to find jobs due to the weak economy are not contributing to employer-provided retirement plans, thereby reducing future retirement income and security."

An uncertain regulatory environment. "In today’s globally competitive marketplace, employers are increasingly sensitive to the costs, risks and potential liabilities of all their activities," testified James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council. "Government policies that raise the costs, risks and potential liabilities associated with retirement plan sponsorship jeopardize the employer commitment to providing retirement benefits."

"One of the greatest impediments to the employer-provided system today is the lack of predictability of the rules and regulatory flexibility to adapt to changing situations," said Dennis T. Delaney, executive vice president of Ingram Industries. "Consequently, it is increasingly important to ensure that there are no statutory, practical or political barriers to innovation that would discourage participation in the private retirement system."

Proposal to broaden fiduciary standard. On the U.S. Department of Labor's proposal to expand the definition of “fiduciary” under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Klein noted, "We are very concerned that an overly broad definition would actually have a very adverse effect on retirement savings by inhibiting investment education and guidance for plans and participants, raising costs and shrinking the pool of service providers willing to provide such investment education and guidance."

For transcripts of the testimony provided at the hearing, click here.

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