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Sen. Murray Revives Women’s Retirement Protection Act

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What You Need to Know

  • The legislation would strengthen consumer protections to safeguard retirement savings.
  • The measure would expand spousal protections for defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans.
  • It would also help women with low incomes and survivors of domestic abuse get retirement benefits.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., reintroduced Thursday the Women’s Retirement Protection Act of 2021, legislation intended to address the retirement gap and bolster women’s financial security.

The lawmakers reintroduced their bill in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis that they argue have disproportionately affected women, particularly women of color.

“COVID-19 has upended the finances of families across the country and led to severe job loss, especially in sectors like child care that disproportionately employ women, particularly women of color,” Murray said in a statement. “Even before this pandemic, women in America typically had less money saved for retirement, in part because they were paid less than their male counterparts for the same work throughout their careers.”

Murray cited a recent survey that found that 40% of women said they expect the past year to have a long-term impact on their finances.

The legislation would strengthen consumer protections to safeguard retirement savings, increase eligibility for employer-sponsored retirement savings plans for part-time workers, increase access to information about retirement and savings tools, and help women with low incomes and survivors of domestic abuse get the retirement benefits they are entitled to after a divorce.

The bill would:

  • Expand spousal protections for defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans to prevent one spouse from making decisions that might undermine a couple’s retirement resources without the other’s knowledge and consent.
  • Ensure more part-time workers are offered retirement savings plans by expanding the minimum participation standards for part-time workers — most of whom are women. The Secure Act established retirement plan eligibility for such workers after three years with an employer — WRPA would reduce that to two years.
  • Increase access to information about retirement and savings tools by providing grants for community-based organizations to help provide information and financial tools to women who are of working or retirement age.
  • Support women with low incomes and survivors of domestic abuse seeking retirement benefits by providing grants for community-based organizations that assist them in obtaining qualified domestic relations orders, the legal instruments that allow the division of retirement benefits — ensuring they receive the retirement benefits they are entitled to after a divorce or legal separation.

“As women strive for economic equality in this country, we need to make sure they have the opportunity for stable, secure retirement. That includes ensuring a woman’s spouse cannot alter their shared retirement savings without her consent,” Underwood added.

Pictured: Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)