August 23, 1984

I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 4280, the Retirement Equity Act of 1984. This important legislation is the first private pension bill in our history to recognize explicitly the importance of women both to the American family and to the Nation's labor force. It contains significant measures to enhance women's ability to earn pensions in their own right. It improves and protects the vital role of pensions as retirement income to widows.

An end to inequities in the provision of pension benefits to women has been a top priority of my administration. In September 1983 I sent to Congress our own pension equity bill. I am pleased that most of that bill has been incorporated into this legislation I have now approved.

Existing pension rules, when originally enacted, did not fully anticipate the dual roles many women have come to play as both members of the paid labor force and as wives and mothers during periods of full-time work in the home. Provisions in many pension plans now operate in ways that fail to recognize paid work performed by women at certain periods in their lives and penalize them for time spent in child rearing. To address this inequity, the Retirement Equity Act lowers the age limits on participation and vesting, permitting more pension credits to be earned during the early working years when women are most likely to be employed. The legislation also eases break-in-service rules so that parents who bear children and stay home to care for them in the early years will no longer lose the pension credits they previously earned while working.

The Retirement Equity Act also clarifies that each person in a marriage has a right to benefit from the other's pension. No longer will one member of a married couple be able to sign away survivor benefits for the other. A spouse's written consent now will be required on any decision not to provide survivors' protection. The legislation also helps assure that when a vested employee dies before retirement, the employee's surviving spouse will benefit from the pension credits the employee has earned, and it restricts considerably the latitude now allowed pension plans to impose additional conditions on survivors' benefits. Survivors' benefits will be paid automatically in more instances than now. In addition, the bill makes it clear that State courts can allocate pension rights in divorce cases and other domestic relations settlements.

The enactment of this legislation has been a bipartisan effort, and I wish to thank the many Members of both the House and Senate for their hard work. This law is a most significant addition to our continuing efforts to remove economic discrimination against women in our nation.

Note: As enacted, H.R. 4280 is Public Law 98 - 397, approved August 23.