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Delaware EARNS officially opens for enrollment

Katie Tabeling
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Delaware EARNS, the state retirement fund program, is projected to have 3,900 employers and almost 39,000 employees enrolled. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ADOBE STOCK

WILMINGTON Delaware EARNS, the state-sponsored retirement plan, officially opened for enrollment on July 1 with hopes of bridging the state’s retirement savings gap.

Two years after legislation passed to establish the Delaware Expanding Access for Retirement and Necessary Saving program, or DE EARNS, employers with five or more employees —regardless of full-time or part-time status — now have to sign up and provide a retirement plan option.

Administered by New York based Vestwell State Savings, Delaware EARNS is structured as an automatic payroll deduction which is put into an Roth individual retirement account. Based on federal rules, there are annual contribution limits for how much an employee can put into an IRA. Those under 50 years of age can save up to $7,000 in their IRA while those over the age of 50 can save up to $8,000. Lower limits may be applied depending on various tax situations.

The program is funded by employees and facilitated by employers; employers can opt out if they offer their own plan like a 401(K). The deadline for employers to opt out or enroll is Oct. 15.

For the past year, the Delaware State Treasurer’s Office has been on an information campaign throughout the state and spent time meeting with several local chambers of commerce on how the program works. Colleen Davis, the state treasurer, once estimated that there are between 150,000 to 200,000 Delawareans who have not been offered a retirement plan through their employer.

Most of those employees were considered in the low and low-to-moderate income bracket. The National Compensation and Benefits Survey also found that 54% of Delaware employers do not offer retirement plans.

“The reason why the treasurer’s office got involved in this issue is that we’re facing a retirement savings crisis,” Delaware EARNS Program Director Ted Griffith said. “We have many workers that aren’t saving anything, and it’s not a problem unique to Delaware. But we can help do something about it by giving them access to start that fund through work. There’s research that shows that if someone does have a retirement plan that can contribute to payroll, they’re 15 times more likely to start one.”

Griffith also said it’s a societal issue as well as a workplace issue. With Delaware’s senior population continuing to rise, the Pew Charitable Trust and Econsult Solutions Inc. found that the state was on track to spend an additional $55 million per year over the next 20 years on programs like Medicaid due to insufficient savings. 

“Not only can we help create a pathway to help people be more self-sufficient and financially empowered, we’re reducing the burden on the state over time,” he said.

Delaware is one of a few that has mandated retirement plans at various stages, either active or in the process of development. Colorado was among the first, and surrounding states like Virginia and New Jersey have also opened enrollment for similar plans, RetirePath Virginia and RetireReady NJ, respectively.

The First State has also joined a consortium of states, led by Colorado, to maximize Delaware EARNS’ potential to pool resources when it comes time to set up these programs to work. That can translate to savings for the account holders.

While it’s still early, Delaware EARNS has about 12 employers already enrolled as part of a pilot program. Based on projections done by the Pew Charitable Trust, it’s anticipated that 3,900 employers and almost 39,000 employees will be enrolled in the program.

“We’re excited for the future, because not only will this help the savings gap, it’ll help with the wealth gap,” Griffith said. “It’s going to give Delawareans who may not have a chance to invest a way to do that.”

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