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31 Jul 2020
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Sen. Joan Huffman Pens Letter to Texas Retired Educators: “Committed to Protecting Your Pension”

Sen. Joan Huffman serves on the Texas Senate Finance Committee and served as Chair of the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee last session. Her work includes authoring Senate Bill 12 in 2019, which provided $1 billion in funding from the state into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund. Today, she released a statement showing continued support for retirees through funding for the pension plan. Click the statement below to enlarge it.

On Twitter she said, “To all the @TRSofTexas retirees: I know that COVID-19 is causing lots of uncertainty, but rest assured that your TRS benefits are not changing due to the state of the markets, and your annuity payments are not at risk! See my statement below for details.”

“I want to reassure you that the Texas Legislature is continuously monitoring the TRS Pension Fund and its operations,” she said in her statement. “Let me be crystal clear: retiree benefits are not changing due to the state of the markets, and your annuity payments are not at risk.”

She goes on to say that she will continue to support the funding from the previous session, and that her goal is to “ensure that the pension fund remains stable for decades to come.”

Huffman’s statement comes in response to Scott Burns’ article in the Dallas Morning News. Burns’ article discusses the investment practices—and their benefits and downfalls—of the TRS pension fund.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) provided its response to Burns’ article here, and Tim Lee spoke about the article on Facebook Live with TRTA members and supporters on July 30.

TRTA and the Texas Legislature have worked diligently to provide meaningful, long-term and much-needed funding improvements to the TRS pension trust fund. TRTA supports these efforts as a way to ensure the fund’s long-term sustainability, and ultimately, to provide benefit increases to retirees.

TRTA will always work to protect your retirement security. We will also work with the TRS Board of Trustees to address member concerns like those raised by Burns’ article. Providing explantations and context to members on how the agency can address funding issues, including how they manage investment fees, assures TRS members their trust fund is being managed efficiently and effectively.

TRS takes its responsibility for providing retirees with a reliable monthly income very seriously, but the agency should explain its investment practices and how those choices ultimately impact its members’ bottom lines.

TRTA is extremely grateful to Sen. Huffman who has worked tirelessly on TRS issues. Her commitment to TRS and to communicating with TRTA members on these important matters is much appreciated. TRTA looks forward to working with Huffman on these issues in the coming session.

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30 Jul 2020
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TRTA In-Person Meetings Canceled Through December 31, 2020: What Happens Now?

The Texas Retired Teachers Association’s (TRTA) Board of Directors voted unanimously on Tuesday, July 14 to impose a hold on all TRTA-affiliated in-person meetings across the state through the end of 2020. This includes all district fall conferences and local unit meetings, as well as smaller in-person gatherings such as district or local unit executive committee meetings.

The decision was not made lightly and was made for the concern of the health and safety of all members of TRTA. With the rising number of cases of coronavirus in Texas, the board decided the potential negative outcome of in-person meetings that may inadvertently result in a health crisis for any TRTA member is too great.

Tim Lee recorded a Facebook Live video discussing this decision as well as the recent Scott Burns article on the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund. The Burns article discusses the investment practices—and their benefits and downfalls—of the TRS pension fund. TRTA’s response to the article is available here. TRTA supports the TRS investment team, but retirees have had concerns about the high external fees and staff bonuses for many years. TRTA is urging the TRS Board of Trustees to address Mr. Burns’ article and provide an explanation to members on how the agency will fix these problems.

While in-person meetings have been canceled, TRTA encourages districts and local units that are interested in doing so to continue meeting virtually when possible. Many TRTA districts and local units have reported to the state that they have been meeting virtually via Zoom videoconferencing services or other conference call services. If you’d like to learn more about Zoom, please refer to this email explainer or contact Roy Varney, roy@trta.org.

In addition to canceling all local and district in-person meetings through 2020, TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee and TRTA state officers will not be traveling for any in-person meetings. However, if you would like Tim Lee or a state officer to visit your local unit virtually this fall, please contact Shelby Click at shelby@trta.org.

TRTA knows not all units are able to meet virtually, and we encourage our members to remain safe and consider making phone calls, sending text messages, or emailing or mailing newsletters or cards to their members to check in on them.

What’s the Best Thing Our Members Can Do from Home This Fall? Get on the Phone!

We know that many of the events of this year have been discouraging, but now is not the time for TRTA members to give up!

The Texas Comptroller announced that the state will face a significant budget shortfall come next legislative session. Will this impact your pension fund and health care? It could. But this means we must enter the session stronger than ever!

While you are staying home and staying safe, please consider calling up your retired friends and colleagues and asking them to please join TRTA. We are still within reach of our goal of 100,000 members!

Are these difficult times? Yes. Are retirees up for the challenge? Absolutely! We must enter the next session prepared. We must prepare now by rallying the troops! This is the time when nearly 70 years of advocacy and perseverance really pays off.

Here’s what some other retirees are saying about TRTA:

  • Kathy T.

Yes, I belong. They helped us get the only raise/money retirees have gotten this century.

  • Lila M.

All Texas retired school employees should be members of TRTA. They represent us in the legislature and numbers count! Each member of TRTA represents a vote, and legislators care about that!

  • Robin H.

TRTA costs less than $3.00 a month. It’s a great deal, especially considering they are fighting to make things better for us.

  • Rick H.

Yes-great advocates for us in the state legislature as well as Congress. Very active at the congressional level trying to deal with the disgraceful way they treat our Social Security benefits.

  • Beverly N.

Yes, they are an excellent advocate for retired teachers. They work tirelessly for us with the legislature when in session. Strongly support them. Go to trta.org to join.

  • Doneice R.

I suggest you join both the state TRTA and a local group! They are both an important part of advocating for Retired School Personnel benefits. TRTA is nearing 100,000 members – legislators know us and know our issues! TRTA members are a strong voice in Austin!

  • Rita L.

I am a member of TRTA and my local. I love the support and the advocacy of this organization. The member benefits are also great. Be a part of something that matters.

  • Darell H.

Hope you will join TRTA and join us in advocating for yourself and our peers. Many of those who retired long ago, who no longer have a spouse to help support them, are living near poverty. They need our help.

  • Debbie J.

It’s a great organization that represents retired teachers and their needs. TRTA also keeps its members aware of what issues are in session and being decided. It also helps and encourages retired teachers to email or call their representatives.

  • Phil C.

TRTA is the go-to place for ALL Texas retired teachers. They lobby for US.

  • Cynthia B.

TRTA represents us in the Legislature. People, there is safety in numbers. Can you imagine if EVERY retired public school employee joined TRTA what a powerful statement that would be? Join up now.

  • Randy M.

Yes. Every retired educator should be a member. They help us to have a voice at TRS and the state capitol. It is so affordable, and you can have it deducted from your monthly TRS payment. Less than $3.00 per month. Why would you not become a member?

Thank You and Keep Checking Your Email!

The TRTA Board of Directors thanks you for your continued support and your membership. The board and the staff are thinking of you and wishing you all well during these trying and unusual times. We know that Zoom and other virtual services cannot take the place of face-to-face contact and hope that we can resume meetings again sooner rather than later.

TRTA will also provide additional updates this fall about ways all members can participate in the legislative process virtually and from home as we head into the November general election cycle and 87th Legislative Session in January 2021. Watch for frequent email updates from Tim Lee and don’t forget to phone your friends and ask them to join TRTA today!

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28 Jul 2020
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Why the Teacher Retirement System of Texas Should Re-Evaluate Its Investment Approach

Tim Lee, TRTA’s Executive Director, will host a Facebook Live event on Thursday discussing this issue and fall virtual meetings on Thursday, July 30 at 10 a.m. The video will be available on TRTA’s Facebook page. You don’t need a Facebook account to view the video. The video will be recorded to the videos section of the Facebook page if you miss the live event.

In a recent article published in the Dallas Morning News, author Scott Burns discusses the investment practices—and their benefits and downfalls—of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund.

Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) have had serious concerns about TRS investment costs over the past few years, and Burns’ article provides a smart, researched validation for their apprehension.

According to Burns, TRS earned 5.2 percent in the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2019. It’s a number that appears small but exceeds the returns for other state public pension funds by a significant margin. For example, the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS) earned 3 percent during the same period.

Still, Burns points out, while 5.2 percent is a better fund performance than others, it falls short of TRS’ rate of return goal of 7.25 percent. Additionally, while Burns notes that TRS has a lot of talent on its investment staff, the “compensation and incentives for fund managers clocked in at a cool $1.3 billion for the year.”

Burns also points out that “more than 90 percent of the (TRS) management fees go to ‘alternative investments.’” Nearly half of the fund’s assets ($72.2 billion) in alternative investments, and TRS is projected to commit “an additional $36.9 billion to such investments in future years.” All of these figures can be found in the TRS Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

TRTA has always been supportive of TRS and its robust Investment Management Division but has continued to have questions and concerns about high external fees and staff bonuses for many years. Additionally, documents such as the 174-page TRS CAFR may be considered overwhelming for the average reader not accustomed to dissecting and analyzing information from complicated financial reports.

Transparency is vital to TRS improving its relationship with its members, and the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s staff evaluation of TRS this year pointed out that its explanation of alternative investments needs additional oversight and clarity. This clarity should include information about changes in investment practices and their overall impact on the fund.

For example, in the past, TRS had low investment costs and very good returns with mostly internal management. Beginning in 2007, TRS moved away from internal management and began using more external managers and moving more money to alternative assets with higher fees. The cost of external management has increased each year!

“The superiority of low-cost index investing suggests that a lot of money for teacher retirements is being siphoned off into the pockets of well-meaning and very well-paid investment managers,” Burns writes. “What if that money went to teachers? What would it do?”

TRS retirees live on an average monthly fixed income of $2,096. That’s just a little more than $25,000 per year. As the cost of living continues to rise for people everywhere, retirees are trying to make ends meet on an amount that is considered poverty level. Many retirees return to work, filling in their financial gaps with substitute teaching work. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this option may no longer be available to retirees, particularly those with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

Retirees also face the harsh, cold fact that raises are not given regularly, if at all, from the pension fund unless the Texas Legislature provides the means for it. In 2019, most retirees received a 13th check (which did not exceed $2,000) thanks to TRTA working with legislators to make the payment feasible. With the economy suffering as a result of the pandemic, retirees do not know when or if they will see supplemental income again.
Burns takes his query one step further and does the math for us, stating that if you divide the average yearly retiree’s income ($25,152) into the $1,305,067,683 spent on investment management, “you get 51,887 additional years of teacher retirement income.”

While that isn’t even enough to provide another year of income for all current TRS retirees—there are about 435,000 of them—it’s still a figure that stands out and matters to TRTA and should matter to TRS and the Texas Legislature.

How much, for example, could that amount help retirees struggling to pay for medical bills or costly prescriptions? It is enough to provide a one-time supplemental payment to all TRS retirees of about $3,000!

Burns asks if Texas public education retirees should be happy and proud, and answers with the same ambivalence we know many retirees feel.

Retirees are proud to have a system that has never missed a payment to one of its annuitants in its more than 80-year history. Retirees are proud to have dedicated their working lives and now their retirement years to public service.

They know that the TRS pension system provides great value and security to them and to the state. The system is worth improving, as it is the sole retirement income for most public-school employees—80 percent of whom do not receive Social Security benefits.

But retirees deserve better, and they deserve more. TRS must work with TRTA and the Texas Legislature to find a way to provide meaningful, long-term and much-needed benefit increases to retirees.

The TRS Board of Trustees should also make it a priority to re-evaluate its investment approach. History has shown that increasingly moving to alternative investments has not worked as planned. If returns had been stellar, the outlandish fees may have been justifiable. Several years of savings on these fees would have been enough to pay for a COLA for retirees.

TRTA is urging the TRS Board of Trustees to address Mr. Burns’ article and provide an explanation to members on how the agency will fix this problem. TRS is accountable not only for providing retirees with a reliable monthly income, but also for explaining its investment practices and how those choices ultimately impact its members’ bottom lines.

If you haven’t already, please be sure to sign up for the Inside Line and support our work by becoming a member or by renewing your membership.

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