WASHINGTON - President Clinton will ask lawmakers for $54 billion over the next 10 years to subsidize retirement savings accounts for 76 million Americans, the White House said Thursday.

The price tag on the savings accounts, or RSAs, represents about 15% of a $350 billion tax cut sought by the President. He will also propose a test program for government-designed, affordable checking accounts, called "First Accounts," to be aimed at low-income people. Details were released Thursday morning in advance of the annual State of the Union address.

The retirement savings plan is a scaled-down version of a plan introduced by the President last year. Under that proposal, the government would have spent between $30 billion and $40 billion annually to seed savings accounts for more than 100 million Americans and match private contributions. The proposal died in a struggle between the White House and Republican lawmakers over tax legislation and Social Security reform.

Under the latest proposal, the federal government would match deposits by low- and moderate-income people between the ages of 25 and 60. When fully phased in after 2004, an individual could contribute as much as $1,000 annually to an RSA, and couples could contribute $2,000 a year.

The government would provide a 2-to-1 match up to the first $200 invested by a couple earning $25,000 or less annually, or up to $100 for an individual earning as much as $12,500. The match rate would phase out for couples with incomes between $25,000 and $80,000, and for individuals earning between $12,500 and $40,000.

The match rate would drop to a maximum of 1-to-1 for the next $1,800 invested by a couple or $900 by an individual, and phase out over the same annual wage levels.

Participants could hold the funds in employee-sponsored retirement plans or in private financial institutions and invest broadly. Contributions would be tax-deductible, accounts would grow tax-free, and withdrawals would be taxed.

A person who participated in the program for 40 years could accumulate more than $266,000, the White House said. President Clinton will introduce the plan to Congress on Feb. 7 in his 2001 budget proposal.

Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers reiterated in a speech Thursday that the President would seek $30 million to fund a test program of the "First Accounts." The plan is part of the administration's efforts to broaden access to financial services for the 20% of U.S. households who lack traditional bank accounts - a population equal to that of Spain, Mr. Summers said.

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