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Michael Bennet: The Retirement Survey

Yahoo Finance and the Funding our Future campaign (an alliance of organizations dedicated to making a secure retirement possible for all Americans) teamed up to get more details on where the 2020 candidates for president stand on retirement. According to a recent Gallup poll, “Not having enough money for retirement” is a top financial worry among Americans yet the issue has received minimal attention thus far on the campaign trail. During the September debate, the words “Social Security” or “Retirement” weren’t uttered, according to ABC’s transcript.

The following are the responses from Michael Bennet, the Senator from Colorado.

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Will you address the coming insolvency of Social Security’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance trust fund in your first term as president? If so, what specific policies will you advance?

Social Security is a guarantee we make to the American people, one we owe to this generation and future generations. We must ensure Social Security’s solvency for our kids and grandkids by making the investments in them that our parents and grandparents made in us.

Overwhelmingly, Americans of all political parties support Social Security, yet Republicans in Washington continue to slash benefits at every opportunity. As president, I will end this attack on our seniors, and instead boost benefits for the most vulnerable beneficiaries, including low-lifetime earners and older beneficiaries.

Ensuring Social Security’s long-term solvency will require bipartisan compromise, and it will be easier to do the sooner we act. If we reversed just half of the tax cuts made since 2000 -- which overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans -- we could make Social Security solvent forever.

As president, I will start by lifting the payroll tax cap, so higher-income taxpayers cannot exempt a large share of their wages from paying into the system, while middle-class and working families pay a payroll tax on every dollar they earn. That alone would go a long way toward shoring up Social Security’s finances.

Should every person who pays into Social Security be eligible for full benefits, regardless of their socioeconomic status? In other words, will your plan include means testing?
• Will your plan include raising the retirement age or other benefit reductions?

As part of a broader plan to protect Social Security and make it sustainable, I support expanding Social Security for working families. The typical person receives $1,300 per month. Instead of discussing where to slash those benefits, I will look at ways to expand support for people who are really struggling to make ends meet. The current benefit structure already pays out more per dollar of income for lower-income recipients than higher-income recipients. As we lift the payroll tax cap, we should consider maintaining and strengthening that progressivity.

Should Social Security be funded primarily through payroll taxes, as it is currently, or should other revenue be used to shore up the program’s funding? If so, what revenue source(s) do you propose using?

Any revenue source that could shore up Social Security should be considered in the context of a bipartisan effort to make Social Security solvent for the next generation.

Should Social Security benefits be increased for any beneficiaries? If so, how do you propose increasing them, and how will your plan pay for any increase in benefits?

Yes, in the context of a broader plan to ensure Social Security’s solvency, we should also consider an increase in benefits for the lowest earners and for people who are over the age of 85.

Current legislation in Congress, the SECURE Act, has bipartisan support. Its primary pillars are expanding access to workplace retirement savings plans, increasing retirement income options, and enabling people to contribute to and retain their funds in IRAs and 401(k)s at later ages. Do you support the legislation? Why? Are there certain aspects you oppose? Why?

Yes, I support the bipartisan SECURE Act. It’s unacceptable that a handful of Republicans in the Senate are blocking legislation that has overwhelming bipartisan support and would enhance retirement savings options for tens of millions of Americans.

Should every worker have access to a workplace retirement savings account?

Yes.

a) If so, how would you make that happen?

I would provide larger tax credits to small businesses who set up and enhance retirement savings options, similar to the work I championed as part of the SECURE Act. I would consider allowing for automatic IRAs so people can save at their workplaces if a 401(k) is not provided. And I would consider creating a “401(k) in the sky” to address the changing 21st century workforce. This would have all of the benefit options and protections of a 401(k), but also be portable, so workers can pay into a single account throughout their careers even as they change employers.

b) If not, why not?
c) Many states are establishing plans of their own. Do you support these plans and what role do you envision them playing in the broader system?

Yes, state efforts can be a valuable part of the solution for providing an option for workers to save. We should work to facilitate those efforts, rather than block them as the Trump Administration and Senator McConnell have done.

The gig economy has upended traditional retirement models, and those workers face some of the greatest barriers when it comes to saving for retirement. How would you improve the ability of gig workers to save for retirement?

We must approach the changing 21st century workforce with the same innovation and ingenuity that its workers are bringing to our economy. That’s why I would expand workplace-based retirement savings options and create portable savings options, such as the “401(k) in the sky,” so workers have the flexibility they need to thrive.

Do you support making it easier for workers to move their retirement benefits from one employer to another, such as a portable benefits model? How would you achieve that?

Yes, as described above.

How would you propose improving retirement security for low-income Americans, many of whom cannot afford to put away savings?

For the last 40 years, 90% of Americans have not seen a decent wage increase. Meanwhile, the costs of housing, health care, child care, and higher education have continued to rise. In other words, too many families today cannot afford a middle-class life, let alone save for retirement. We need to dramatically change how we are preparing and supporting people entering and currently in the workforce so that our economy benefits everyone, not just the wealthiest people.

As president, I will start by transforming our education system to ensure everyone graduating from high school can earn a living wage, not just the minimum wage. As a former school superintendent of a large urban school district, where the majority of kids lived in poverty, I know how important it is for us to realign our schools to match the needs of local economies. I will establish Regional Opportunity Compacts to build that alignment and enact free community college so students can learn the skills through classes and apprenticeship programs to find high-paying jobs when they enter the workforce.

I will also focus on creating economic security for every family by increasing the minimum wage, implementing paid family leave, and enhancing the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. My American Family Act would provide a tax credit of up to $300 per month per child to families. This alone would cut child poverty by nearly 40% and put more money in the pockets of middle-class families, setting kids up for success in life -- including higher earnings and the capacity to save.

More Responses

Every active campaign was invited to participate. Several declined or did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Some campaigns opted to respond only to select questions and are not included here.

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