A COLA for TRS Retirees This Session is the Message

NOW is the time for TRS retirees to receive a much discussed, promised, and needed cost-of-living increase!

By Leroy DeHaven, TRTA President

Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) are elated to hear that our years hard work and sacrifice have finally paid off! The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension trust fund is fiscally stable. This has been our hard-fought mission. With a stable pension fund, the door is open for Texas to provide retirees with a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

As your TRTA State President, I believe there are two questions we must ask in this moment: Will the Legislature seize the day and pass legislation that provides a COLA; and how much of an increase can and will the Legislature authorize?

(Tim Lee will host a live video discussion about a COLA tomorrow, March 19, at 2:30 PM Central via Facebook and YouTube! Be sure to join us then!)

As retired education employees, we are grateful for the commitment the Legislature has shown to TRS. The major reason we have all partnered together and worked hard is to deliver on a promise: that TRS retirees are not forgotten and financial help—a COLA—will occur when the system is stable.

We believe that time has come! The TRS pension trust fund is actuarially sound. It has a funding period of less than 31 years. In fact, TRS officials have told us that the funding period is now 26 years based on the February 28 pension fund valuation!

That’s great news! Elected leaders have told us that once the pension fund could afford to provide a raise, it would be a major priority.

TRS retirees have not received a permanent annuity increase since 2013, and the COLA applied only to retirees who retired on or before August 31, 2004. If you’ve retired after that time, you’ve never received a permanent increase in your pension! That’s 17 years with no raise.

According to Texas statute, the Legislature may authorize a pension increase for TRS retirees if the trust fund has a funding period of less than 31 years and if that increase does not push the funding period beyond the 31-year mark. In other words, we can finance the increase. We cannot, however, pay for something if it is beyond our ability to finance it.

As a TRS retiree, I have personally dedicated my retirement years to being a champion for TRS to help my fellow retirees have a strong pension fund and get us all an increase in our modest benefits.

All of our work and the efforts by our elected officials and the dedication of our TRS investment professionals have finally paid off! We are at a place in time that has not occurred in Texas in more than 20 years! Today, the Legislature can authorize a pension increase for all eligible TRS retirees and the pension fund can afford to provide an increase with no cost to the Texas budget in a way that will NOT endanger the fund’s long-term actuarial soundness!

Decision-makers and TRS leaders need to hear this message loud and clear: as retirees who live on fixed incomes and are desperate for a financial boost, we measure all TRS policy against when retirees receive a pension increase!

More than 136,000 TRS retirees earn less than $1,000 per month in their annuities, while another 101,000 earn between $1,000 and $2,000. The monthly average among all retirees is just $2,118.

TRS is not coordinated with Social Security and 96 percent of Texas public school employees do not pay into the federal program. Most TRS retirees do not receive any Social Security income, including spousal or widower’s benefits, due to the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). TRS is all most retirees have!

TRTA is committed to helping our TRS retirees! The Legislature has done its homework. In fact, our Texas legislators have done their extra credit, too. They have championed TRS and our retired educators every session.

We’ve all looked forward to this day! Retirees need help. Let’s unite to achieve a COLA this session!

Thank you!

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