In an increasingly competitive business environment where you're struggling to attract top talent, benefits for workers matter. A lot.

And after health care, probably none matter more than retirement benefits. Unfortunately small business owners are at a disadvantage due to the administrative complexity and costs associated with setting up 401(k) plans for employees. As a result, the majority of workers for small businesses don't have access to such plans.

Now help may be on the way: In an attempt to remedy the disparity, President Obama announced Tuesday that his budget plan for fiscal year 2017 contains proposals that would make it easier for your company to set up a 401(k) easier. Among other things, the president's plan allows businesses to band together into buying pools, called multiple-employer plans (MEPs), that would reduce the administrative costs and other burdens of such retirement benefits.

While some businesses--car dealerships, for example--already have access to buying pools within their industry, the president's program would allow other, unaffiliated businesses to band together. To help business owners pay for the new benefit, the budget would also provide tax credits for businesses that set up new retirement plans, or that automatically enroll employees in existing plans.

Additionally, workers in companies without access to workplace plans would be automatically enrolled in Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), an option that's currently available to such workers on a voluntary basis. Part-time workers would also be eligible to participate in the plans, and contract or self-employed workers would be able to contribute to MEPs as they move from job to job.

According to the Obama administration, some 30 million U.S. workers lack access to a retirement plan. In broad terms, that equals one out of three workers, and half of workers in companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Several of the president's previous budgets have held similar provisions, but have not survived the budget-making process in Congress. In 2014, the Obama administration issued a directive to the Department of the Treasury to set up a plan called the MyRA, a streamlined IRA for workers. That initiative launched in 2015.

Published on: Jan 26, 2016