February 1, 2016

Senate & House Leadership Announce Middle-Class Economics Package

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Senate & House Leadership Announce Middle-Class Economics Package

Legislation highlights common sense solutions for Maryland’s middle class

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Joined by legislators and advocates, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., and House Speaker Michael E. Busch today announced legislation to support the middle-class by focusing on College Affordability, Pay Equity, and Retirement Security.

“The middle class has been squeezed since the Great Recession,” said Speaker Michael E. Busch. “We need to help families feel like they have economic security and ensure their kids have access to opportunities for success that my generation had.”

“Middle class priorities are our priorities,” stated Senator Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. “As a father, and grandfather, these issues of pay equity, college affordability, and retirement security get to the core of what will provide a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY

Over the past eight years, the legislature has limited tuition increases at Maryland’s colleges, to bring Maryland from 7th most expensive to the 26th least expensive. Three bills this year will focus more on the student debt issue that has become a national and local problem: the average debt of a college graduate in Maryland was over $27,000 last year.

With less discretionary income available over the past decade, Maryland’s College Savings 529 Plan has become increasingly out of reach for middle-class families. According to a 2012 report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, less than 3% of families had a 529 plan. Those that participated had about 25 times the median financial assets and a median income about 3 times of those who did not participate in a plan. According to the Department of Legislative Services, “this trend holds true in Maryland.”

  • Education Affordability Act of 2016
    • To make early college savings more accessible for middle-class families, legislation will incentivize investments in 529 plans by providing a State match. This bill would impact up to 20,000 Maryland families to encourage working families to begin savings for their child’s higher education costs and reduce the amount of future debt.
    • The bill will also assist middle class college graduates and families with student debt exceeding $20,000, based on debt-to-income ratios.
    •  The bill also incentivizes students to take 30 credits each year so they can graduate on time in four years, saving students time and money.
  • Student Loan Refinancing Study
    • Legislation will also be considered to study whether the State can establish a mechanism to refinance student loan debt to more manageable payments, and report back to the General Assembly in 2017.

PAY EQUITY

In 2016, women make an average of 78 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men. At the current rate, it will take 45 years for men and women to be on equal pay footing.

In Maryland in 2014, a woman who holds a full time job is paid on average $49,000 per year, while a man who holds a full time job is paid $57,000 per year.

 

  • Equal Pay for Equal Work Act
    • Legislation will strengthen expand equal pay for equal work laws in Maryland to all employers, by ensuring that businesses cannot penalize employees for discussing salaries.
    • The bill will also allow for greater sunlight on currently existing pay disparities and broadens existing State standards used to determine whether unlawful compensation discrimination exists.
    • The bill specifies that the Attorney General can also enforce pay discrimination claims.

RETIREMENT SECURITY

With employer-sponsored retirement plans in decline across the country, and Maryland employees having only Social Security to rely on, there cannot be a further delay in providing Marylanders with a path towards economic stability in retirement.

An estimated one million Marylanders lack adequate retirement savings and are at risk of financial distress when they eventually retire. More than a third of those within ten years of retirement age have saved less than $10,000.

  • Retirement Security
    • Last year, the presiding officers established an interim workgroup on retirement security & savings to work with the federal Department of Labor to identify ways that Maryland can help families save for retirement.
    • Legislation is being finalized to establish a program to incentivize employers who do not already offer retirement options to provide retirement savings plans to all employees.

In addition, Senate Leadership will be supporting the following legislation:

  • ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Savings Plan – Senator Feldman
    • Enables individuals with certain disabilities to establish tax-free savings accounts modeled after the popular 529 college savings plans that, if used for qualified expenses, won’t affect eligibility for means-tested public programs such as Medicaid and SSI (Supplemental Security Income).
  • Drug Free Workplace – Workers Compensation Credit – Senator Klausmeier
    • Encourages employer to help prevent substance abuse problems among their employees
    • Provides an up to 5% credit against Workers Compensation premiums for implementing components of a Drug Free Workplace (employee education, supervisor training, referral to employee assistance or substance abuse programs.
    • The employer must also have a policy requiring an employee who has caused or contributed to an accident while at work to undergo drug or alcohol testing
  • Online Certification in Financial Literacy – Senator Klausmeier
    • Creates a new program to ensure that all Maryland high school students have the opportunity to gain competency in how to save money, plan for their financial  futures, and avoid debt, including significant credit card debt often incurred by many young adults
    • This legislation provides for an online curriculum and certification process for high school students in financial literacy
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