By Cate Blackford and Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
On Thursday morning, the Senate passed the renewal of SB 17-216, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This important legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, had strong bipartisan support. It not only renews key protections for Coloradans, but also includes provisions to make it much harder to take Coloradans to court for debts they do not owe! The legislation now moves to the House, where it is expected to find strong support.
On Wednesday, the House passed the Colorado Secure Savings Plan, HB17-1290, moving Colorado one step closer to making it easier for Coloradans to invest in their future, particularly those who work for small businesses, are self-employed, work as contractors or juggle multiple jobs. The legislation now moves to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle.
Last week, a diverse group of advocates came together to testify in support of the Colorado Secure Savings Plan. They included the Bell's Rich Jones and Scott Wasserman. Click here to see Jones' testimony.
Making it easy for businesses to offer low-fee retirement plans is an idea that united business owners, advocates for millennials, older Americans and ethnic and racial minorities.
Robb Green, a representative of the NAACP of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming made an impassioned case that the lack of retirement security is more than an economic issue.
“The NAACP sees this as a civil rights issue because African Americans and Latinos have a tendency to work for firms that do not offer workplace retirement plans,” Green said. “Fifty-six percent of Latinos and 49 percent of African Americans have no retirement plans at work compared to 40 percent for white workers.”
Several business representatives also spoke during the hearing about how they would like to be able to offer retirement savings to their workers, yet have never been approached by the financial services industry with a plan that would serve them.
Everett Schneider, president of Bedrock Landscaping Materials, told of how lucky he was to get a job more than 20 years ago that came with retirement benefits.
“I worked at a company that had a 401K plan. That money allowed me to go into business for myself. My parents encouraged me to put in the maximum. Yes, I had some flat tires when I wanted to touch that money. (But I didn’t.) So I sit here today as a small business owner hoping…for a bill that will allow my employees to have the same benefits I had.”
Schneider said offering good benefits attracts top talent and cuts down on attrition.
“Employees who feel secure tend to stick around,” Schneider said.
Demetrius Johnson of DSquared Financial Strategies told of working in the financial services industry for 20 years, then starting his own firm because he wanted to do a much better job of providing financial opportunity to all people.
“I saw how grossly underserved minority communities and small business were,” Johnson said. “This bill is a step in the right direction.”
Phil Steckley, an AARP volunteer and retired financial planner, echoed the idea that people who would benefit through the Colorado Secure Savings Plan are not currently being served because they don’t have a large amount of money to invest. That’s why it makes so much sense to pool their investments and have them managed professionally by a low-fee provider. While some opponents of the bill say financial literacy education would solve the problem, Steckley said education alone can’t help people build wealth.
“It can’t produce the same results as a workplace savings program,” Steckley said.
Judy Amabile, a co-owner of Product Architects Inc., a firm that manufactures plastic sport bottles. She described how difficult it was to create a retirement program for her 45 full-time and 3 part-time employees.
“Nobody wanted to touch our situation because most of our employees weren’t going to put a lot of money into their plans,” she said.
Yet, once the plan launched, Amabile saw great results.
“It has made a huge difference, especially among our low-wage workers. We have 85 percent participation in the plan and people are so much more engaged once they start saving. They see their money starting to grow. They feel like they are part of the system, instead of outside the system. They have pride in the fact that they saved this money.”
Blake Manion is owner of Soul Salve, a bath and body works company.
He described the path that many young people take from job to job these days.
“Being a dishwasher was my first job. I spent 12 years in the restaurant industry and managed a couple of kitchens. Not once in that 12 years, working for 12 different employers — two to four jobs at a time — was I ever offered a retirement plan,” Manion said.
He recently considered starting a retirement plan for a small business with a partner.
“But the startup fees were too high,” Manion said.
While some lawmakers said parents should be teaching their children to save when they’re young, Manion said he wasn’t lucky enough to save early.
“My parents never talked to me about retirement. It’s very impressive (that some do). But that doesn’t apply to the large majority of people residing in Colorado. My mom is a 55-year-old business owner. She has next to nothing saved for retirement. Something like this would greatly benefit me and my mother’s generation,” Manion said.
Debra Brown, owner of the group text messaging service, MobilizeUs, brought her six-week-old baby with her when she testified.
She spoke as both a business owner and a member of the millennial generation.
“We started our company 12 years ago. It’s not easy to start a tech company, under-financed,” she said. “In all the jobs I’ve worked thus far, I’ve never once received a call from someone who is trying to sell me a retirement plan. We aren’t that lucrative when we’re young in our careers.
“This option would be really useful for me and people in my situation,” Brown said. “It would enable me to start saving for retirement and it would be something I could trust. I don’t trust myself to make investments in the market. Knowing that the fiduciary responsibility would be with a firm (that would manage the money) would give me peace of mind.”