Barbara Kim Stanton
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Marcelo Barra, who works as a sail maker at a company in Kalihi, wants to save for retirement. But after paying bills and other family expenses, there never seems to be enough money for savings.

Barra works for a small business with only five employees and his employer doesn’t offer a 401K or other retirement savings plan that deducts money directly from his paycheck — the most effective way to save.

“This puts my family and, ultimately, myself at a disadvantage in saving for retirement,” Barra said in his testimony to the state Senate Ways and Means Committee. “Being able to have money deducted directly from my payroll is a huge advantage in helping to save for retirement.”

Studies show that workers are 15 times more likely to save if the money comes out of their paycheck before they have a chance to spend it.

That’s why AARP Hawaii is supporting SB 2333, which would fund a feasibility study and set up a mechanism for Hawai‘i to offer a common sense, low-cost way for businesses to help workers like Marcelo Barra save for retirement. We’re calling the program “Hawai‘i Saves.”

We estimate that about half of Hawai‘i’s private-sector workers do not have access to payroll savings plans. That’s about 216,000 workers, mostly in small- or medium-sized businesses. It’s too complicated and expensive for many of those businesses to start and maintain payroll savings plans.

SB 2333 helps small business, workers and taxpayers. Taxpayers save because fewer people will need safety net programs such as Medicaid and food and rent assistance if they have sufficient retirement savings. One study estimates that Hawai‘i would save $32.7 million in the first 15 years if low-income workers save enough money to earn just $1,000 a year for retirement. Combined state and federal savings will be $160 million in Hawai‘i.

We are at the halfway point of the Legislature and SB 2333 and several other bills that AARP supports are crossing over — which means they are still alive and moving on to either the House or the Senate.

Another bill that we are closely watching is SB 2988, which provides $3.4 million for the new Kupuna Caregivers Program, which helps working caregivers with respite and other needs so that they can stay in the workforce.

We’re also monitoring funding for the Aging Disability Resource Centers and Healthy Aging Partnership, which will likely be part of the state budget bill.

There are two bills of interest to kupuna (elders) that are moving from the House to the Senate: HB 1886 would create a pilot project for free tuition for non-credit courses in the University of Hawai‘i system for kupuna, and HB 2342 would make it free to freeze or unfreeze your credit.

HB 2342 was prompted by the recent Equifax data breach. AARP Fraud Watch Network ambassador Frank Abagnale says freezing your credit is one of the best ways for consumers to protect themselves from identity theft.

It is only the halfway mark. But, so far, all of the bills that we’ve identified to help kupuna are still alive. We thank lawmakers for their support of legislation that will help all of us choose how we live as we age.

Barbara Kim Stanton has been the state director of AARP Hawaii since 2005. She writes about living a life of real possibilities, where age is not a limit and experience equals wisdom.


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