State Sen. Daniel Biss honored for retirement savings solution

Paige Leskin, City Editor

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) was selected last week as a finalist in an innovative policy contest for his plan to provide more Illinois workers with retirement savings.

Developing Exceptional American Leaders, known as NewDEAL, named Biss as one of the finalists Wednesday in the New Ideas Challenge.

“Daniel Biss has impressed us with his innovative solution to grow the economy and expand opportunity for all,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, honorary co-chair of the New Ideas Challenge, said in a news release. “I congratulate him and the other results-oriented state and local leaders, not only for the ideas they’re working on locally but also for the ripple effect they’ll create in communities across the country.”

Biss, a member of NewDEAL, a national network of progressive politicians, was chosen for his policy solution called the Secure Choice Savings Program.

The solution is a response to Illinois employers who scale back on retirement benefits and Illinois employees who struggle to save money, Biss’ spokeswoman Katharine Eastvold said.

“Particularly low-wage workers, they’re living paycheck to paycheck,” Eastvold said. “They’re spending everything they make, they don’t know about various savings instruments, they are not financially literate … We’re going to have a crisis where people are coming to retirement age and they don’t have anything saved.”

Instead of workers having to opt into a retirement plan and learn about various financial services, such as Individual Retirement Arrangements and 401(k) accounts, Biss’ plan automatically creates a retirement account for each worker. Three percent of an employee’s income would be deducted and put into the account for retirement savings, unless employees decide to change it themselves.

The program puts no burden on the employee or employer, making it a win-win policy, Eastvold said. The program is designed to increase the number of workers that are saving for retirement, thus allowing older people to be able to leave the workforce and make room for younger employees that are entering it, she said.

The Senate approved Biss’ program in April. Although there is a possibility the bill will be passed during the state House of Representatives’ executive session before the governor’s inauguration in January, the program will likely be introduced as a new bill in the next session, Eastvold said.

The award does not come with a monetary prize, but with recognition and publicity that could help Biss to push his bill through the General Assembly, Eastvold said.

“(He’ll) be able to go to his colleagues and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t just something I came up with on the back of a napkin, this is something that’s a nationally recognized policy idea, something that could really be important for the future of Illinois,’” Eastvold said.

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