Senate Finance Committee approves bills boosting access to stock options, retirement

congressOn a unanimous 26-0 vote, the Senate Finance Committee today adopted two bipartisan proposals introduced by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to make it easier for startups and small businesses to offer retirement accounts and stock options to more of their employees. The Warner proposals are aimed at helping employers recruit, reward and retain talented workers.

The Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership Act, introduced with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), makes it easier for employees of privately-held companies to exercise their stock options by allowing them to defer income taxes on the stock. The amendment allows an employee to defer taxes for up to five years, making it easier for employees to invest in the company where they work. In order to be eligible, a company has to be privately held, and offer stock options to at least 80 percent of employees – not just the most highly-compensated individuals at the firm.

“This proposal helps promote broad-based employee ownership, and encourages employee stockholders to have a long-term investment in a company’s success. As we think about ways to make capitalism work for employees, and not just the boss, this step will help start-ups recruit and retain talent,” Sen. Warner said.“Stock options are a win-win for startups and employees: they help young, high-growth companies attract talent while employees directly benefit from contributing to the company’s growth.”

The second Warner proposal, cosponsored with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), reduces duplicative filing costs for small businesses looking to offer retirement plans to their employees and sole-proprietors. A 2016 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that only 22 percent of workers at small firms have access to a workplace savings plan or pension, compared to 74 percent at firms with 500 or more employees. For smaller employers, offering a retirement plan can be expensive and complex. The Warner/Collins amendment directs the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Treasury Department to allow employers and sole-proprietors participating in retirement plans administered the same way to file a single aggregated Form 5500, a required annual return that provides important compliance information to DOL and Treasury.

“As the nature of work continues to change, increasing access to workplace retirement plans is a crucial step in providing a secure retirement to millions of Americans,” Sen. Warner said. “For smaller employers, offering a retirement plan can be expensive and complex, so we should make it easier and reduce duplicative filing costs for them to offer retirement plans and promote retirement security for all workers.”

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