The Senate Labor Committee yesterday approved a bill recommending tax deduction of up to $1,000 a year for low-income workers making contributions out of their own pockets to pension plans provided by their employers.
The committee also recommended giving small firms a special five-year tax credit starting at 5 percent for establishing private pension plans for their employes.
Both provisions are designed to broaden the scope and benefits of private employe pension plans, which now cover half the labor force but are scanty in low-wage industries and thin for low-wage employes.
The committee also voted to allow the states to order business firms to provide health insurance benefits for all their employes.
These three provisions were key sections of a bill overhauling the basic 1974 law governing private pension and welfare plans. The committee approved the bill by a vote of 9 to 0 and sent it to the Finance Committee, which as co-jurisdiction. The house Education and Labor Committee is considering a similar measure.
The health-care provision was described frankly by Chairman Harrision A. Williams (D-N.J.), Sen Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and others as a way to let the states move ahead on universal health-care schemes until such time as a national health care plan is passed. Kennedy is chief sponsor of a national plan.
Under the provision the states could either require private employers to provide health-care or health insurance plans for their workers at specified benefit levels or, if they opted not to make it mandatory, could set minimum benefits standards for those employers who chose to participate.
To consolidate functions now shared by the Labor Department, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. and the Treasury, the bill would create a new agency: the Employe Benefits Commission.
To widen coverage and benefit levels for employes of smaller businesses, which include most workers not covered by pension plans, the bill contains the two special tax provisions plus a directive to develop prototype "master plans."
Once a bank or insurance firm formulated a master plan acceptable to the government, a small business could contract for such a plan and make required payments to it. The paperwork and fiduciary responsibilities would be assumed by the bank of insurance firm.
The bill also allows an employe to sue a plan for damages if he can show that he has been harmed because the plan's provisions or financial condition had been misrepresented to him.
Although the bill sailed through the Labor Committee yesterday, it still faces difficulties. Some unions oppose its anti-fraud provisions as leading to excessive lawsuits and litigation. Some insurance and banking groups want to ease the ban on certain prohibited financial transactions by pension plans, which the Labor Department wants retained. There is a substantial opposition to creation of the new agency. And the tax committees must review the two big tax changes.