While Democrats in Congress negotiate over trillions of dollars in new spending, the Biden Administration is quietly advancing its agenda through regulation. Witness a little-noticed proposed rule last week by the Labor Department that will add new political directives to your retirement savings.
The Administration says the rule will make it easier for retirement plans to offer 401(k) funds focused on ESG (environmental, social and governance) objectives. In fact, the rule will coerce workers and businesses into supporting progressive policies.
An important Trump Labor rule last fall reinforced that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa) requires retirement plan fiduciaries to act “solely in the interest” of participants. The rule prevented pension plans and asset managers from considering ESG factors like climate, workforce diversity and political donations unless they had a “material effect on the return and risk of an investment.”
The Biden DOL plans to scrap the Trump rule while putting retirement sponsors and asset managers on notice that they have a fiduciary duty to include ESG in investment decisions. The proposed rule “makes clear that climate change and other ESG factors are often material” and thus in many instances should be considered “in the assessment of investment risks and returns.”
per Brian Graff who has spent 25 years at ASPPA and got some recognition for it at the end of this session.
Hispanic and Black coverage in 401(k) plans is low and if this situation it does not improve private sector plans could be eliminated in favor of a government option as in Australia. States (first Oregon, then CA, and 8 others) are setting up their own plans and forcing companies to be in it if they don’t have their own plans. This is good for us in that companies do not want to give their money to states (especially in CA and NJ) so they set up their own plans that need to administered by us.
Proposal that may be effective in 2023 is requiring all companies with at least six employees in the last two years to set up a 401(k) plan with auto-enrollment at 6% going up to 10%. Pie would increase by 62 million participants (from 95 million now) and 600,000 plans (on top of 800,000 now).
The differences in reliance on income sources between those who are already retired and those who are not yet retired are likely attributable, at least in part, to apprehension about the Social Security system, as well as the rise of 401(k)s accompanied by a decline in work-sponsored pension plans.
57% of retired U.S. adults say they rely on Social Security as a major income source, and 38% of nonretirees expect it to be a major source for them.
Likewise, 36% of retirees and 19% of nonretirees say a work-sponsored pension plan is or will be a major income source.
Nonretirees are most likely to say a 401(k) or other retirement savings account will fund their retirement (49%). Meanwhile, 35% of retirees mention 401(k)s as a major funding source of their retirement.
Money managers are lobbying to scrap a Trump-era rule that makes it difficult for 401(k) plans to invest in socially focused funds.
The Labor Department rule, announced in October, imposed restrictions on what can and can’t be offered as company 401(k) funds. One result is that plans can’t use funds with nonfinancial goals as default investments for employees.
That means 401(k) overseers and managers need to show that environmental, social and governance strategies can boost financial returns—a challenge for the nascent industry. ESG-focused funds are a growing profit center for asset managers.
Lobbyists representing managers, pensions and retirees began making calls to the Biden transition team in the weeks after the rule was announced. Some lobbyists urged the incoming administration to agree not to enforce the rule and place it under review, said people familiar with the matter.
Wharton Business Daily: What are your thoughts on the move by Congress to allow people to be able to dip into their 401(k) accounts? You are not a fan of that idea in general.
OliviaMitchell: That’s true. This got started in March 2020, when the CARES Act was passed by Congress, allowing people who had 401(k) accounts and who were younger than age 59.5 to access up to $100,000 from their retirement accounts without paying the 10% penalty. Congress permitted this in the throes of COVID and then they allowed the income taxes on those withdrawals to be spread over three years unless the money was repaid to the account. That option ended in December 2020.
Congress passed a new bill in December that did not extend penalty-free access to everyone, but it did permit people who experienced federally declared disasters, aside from COVID, to withdraw some of their 401(k) money. So, there are still eligible people who, in 2021, can withdraw up to $100,000 from their retirement accounts without penalties. Again, they can spread it over three years for tax purposes. In general, this is not a good idea.