Blog

14 Jun
0

TRTA to Provide Testimony on WEP Reform

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) is advocating on behalf of retired educators to reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central, there will be a meeting of the U.S. Ways and Means Committee, which manages Social Security issues. The meeting will be available to watch here.

TRTA’s legislative committee member for District 4, Mary Widmier, will be testifying to the Ways and Means Committee. She will be sharing her story about being negatively impacted by the WEP. She worked for 36 years as an educator in Texas and 21 years in the private sector.

The WEP is an unfair federal provision preventing retirees from receiving the Social Security benefits they are owed. The WEP, which took effect in 1983, provides a means of eliminating the “windfall” of Social Security benefits received by beneficiaries who also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security.

The WEP is particularly harmful to many retired Texas educators. Ninety-five percent of Texas public school employees do not pay into Social Security through their work with Texas schools. However, many have other jobs before, during, or after their employment in education in which they do pay into the federal program.

TRTA has partnered with the Mass Retirees to form the Public Retirees Alliance. The goal of the Public Retirees Alliance is the reform the WEP, and the help get retirees back the money that they earned during their careers.

TRTA is working closely with Rep. Kevin Brady (R – TX) on reforming the WEP. Brady serves as the co-chair for the Ways and Means committee, and his support is significant towards making progress on this issue.

Rep. Richard Neal (D – MA) serves as the chair of the Ways and Means committee. His bill, H.R. 2337, proposes to provide relief to current and future retirees.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow at 1 p.m. Central to watch Widmier’s testimony to the Ways and Means Committee.

Thank You

The TRTA membership drive is underway for the coming 2021-22 membership year. No other group focuses solely on your TRS retirement security! Please join us today!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA and supporting issues that affect retired Texas public school personnel. Be sure to download the TRTA app to receive all of the latest updates and communicate with your fellow retirees.

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02 Jun
0

ACTION ALERT: TRTA Calls on Gov. Abbott to Add a COLA to the Special Session

TRTA asking members to share this message with fellow retirees and to take action today!

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to add a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or other benefit increase for retired educators to the special session call.

CLICK HERE TO USE OUR ACTION ALERT!

Members of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) who retired after Sept. 1, 2004, have never seen an increase in their retirement checks. Seventeen years is too long for retired educators to go without a meaningful benefit enhancement! A raise is long overdue. Inflation is on the rise, and the only way retired educators will receive help is if the Legislature takes action.

The Legislature has the ability to direct TRS to grant a COLA. The pension fund currently meets the statutory requirements to provide a benefit enhancement. Contact Gov. Abbott’s office today and ask him to add a COLA for retired educators to the call of the special session.

Tim Lee, TRTA’s Executive Director, wrote a letter to Gov. Abbott last week making this request. He wrote, “TRS retirees believe that elected leaders made a promise to help them when the TRS pension trust fund was actuarially sound. Now is that time. A COLA would improve the retirement security of all TRS members, as well as preserve the TRS fund. It is the right thing to do. It would benefit approximately 400,000 Texans who dedicated their lives to the service of Texas communities, parents, and students. Now is the time to help them.”

Leroy DeHaven, TRTA’s President, issued a statement last week wherein he described why a COLA failed to pass this session.

“By the end of session, the answer provided by the Legislature to TRS retirees on what killed the COLA seems to be…TRS is not yet fiscally stable enough, therefore, not now.” Dehaven wrote. “TRS is actuarially sound. More than 130,000 TRS retirees are earning an annuity of $1,000 per month or less. More than half of all current TRS retirees have never received a COLA during their retirement. The federal government is still treating our retirees unfairly with both the WEP and the GPO. NOW is the best time for the Texas Legislature to act on a COLA.”

Join our effort to pass a COLA for retired educators by using our Action Alert today!

Full Recap of Retiree-Related Bills That Passed

TRTA worked to pass a number of meaningful, important pieces of legislation this session. These successes include a bill that includes additional state funding for TRS, the TRS Sunset bill, a golden ticket into TRS-Care bill, two return-to-work bills, two tutoring bills, and a Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset reform resolution.

SB 1 – The State Finance Bill

The state finance bill was the most important piece of legislation that TRTA worked to pass. It was critical for the state to keep its promise from last session to increase its contribution to TRS. This year, the Texas state appropriation to TRS is $5 billion. Nearly $1 billion of this total appropriation is new funding from the state general revenue fund that keeps the state on track to fully fund the TRS actuarial soundness bill passed in 2019.

HB 1585 – The Sunset Bill – Authored By: Lambert | Joint Authors: Canales | Paddie | Goldman | Cyrier | Co-Authors:  Dean | Fierro | Guillen | Ordaz Perez | Ramos | Rogers | Slaton | Spiller | VanDeaver | Senate Sponsor: Lucio, Jr. | Co-Sponsor: Blanco

The TRS Sunset bill made a number of important changes to the state agency, including a mandate for TRS to be more responsive to member needs and the creation of an ombudsman position at TRS to assist members with agency issues, a requirement for TRS to publicly report financial bonuses the agency makes to its investment managers, and increased customer service in health care appeals. TRTA members have been working on these issues since 2019, and we are proud to see the Legislature’s responsive action on ALL the issues we raised in this process.

HB 2022 – Golden Ticket Bill – Authored By: Darby | Joint Authors: Rogers | Johnson, Jarvis | Morales Shaw | Herrero | Co-Authors: Allen | Burns | Campos | Dean |Frullo | Guillen | Harless | King, Ken | Kuempel | Lopez | Minjarez |Price | Raney | Smith | Spiller | Tinderholt | Vo | Zwiener

The golden ticket bill opens the door to allow certain Medicare age-eligible TRS retirees to return to TRS-Care. After the changes made to TRS-Care in 2017, thousands of retirees left the health care program. Once out of the program, retirees couldn’t return. The golden ticket bill will allow those retirees who left between 2017 through 2019 a one-time opportunity to rejoin TRS-Care. Please note, this measure is awaiting action from the Governor, but as long as he does not veto it, it will become law on September 1, 2021. As always, TRS retirees interested in this matter, or any TRS-Care matter, should speak with a TRS counselor before making any decisions relating to their health care insurance options.

SB 288 – Return-to-Work Bill – Authored By: Seliger | Co-Authors: Blanco | Buckingham | Lucio | Paxton | Schwertner  |Springer | Zaffirini | Sponsor: Wu | Co-Sponsors: Anchia | Dean | Ordaz Perez | Allen

For many years, retirees who returned to work in the classroom faced losing an entire pension check if they went over the allowed work period by even a small amount. SB 288 provides a much greater flexibility for retirees to return-to-work by exempting all retirees before Jan. 1, 2021, from work limits. It also institutes a required warning for the first offense from TRS before any penalties are assessed if retirees inadvertently work over the time limits.

HB 3207 – Return-to-Work Disaster Bill – Authored By: Herrero | Joint Authors: Anchia | Parker | Capriglione | Stephenson | Co-Author: Morales Shaw

Similarly, HB 3207 provides a path for retirees to return-to-work during times of disaster, such as during and after winter storm Uri.

SB 1356 – The Tutoring Bills – Authored By: Hughes | Co-Authors:  Gutierrez | Zaffarini | Sponsor:  Dutton

And HB 1525 by Huberty | Joint Authors: VanDeaver | King, Ken | Dutton | González, Mary | Co-Authors: Capriglione | Lopez | Lozano | Morales Shaw | Morales, Eddie | Spiller | Sponsor: Taylor | Co-Sponsors: Bettencourt | Lucio | Paxton

SB 1356 allows organizations, such as the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF), to offer tutoring services to school districts. It’s a significant step forward to help school districts by offering tutoring services through retired educators. The language from SB 1356 was amended onto HB 1525 just to make sure that legislation enabling our tutoring program had a back up, in case anything bad happened to SB 1356. Learn more about TRTF’s tutoring program here.

SCR 17 – WEP Reform – Authored By: Hughes |Co-Authors: Blanco | Buckingham | Creighton | Gutierrez | Hall | Hinojosa | Kolkhorst | Lucio | Springer | West | Sponsor: Herrero | Co-Sponsors: Munoz, Jr. | Parker | Capriglione | Toth

SCR 17 is a request from the Texas Legislature to the federal government to repeal and reform the harmful Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

Thank You

The TRTA membership drive is underway for the coming 2021-22 membership year. No other group focuses solely on your TRS retirement security! Please join us today!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA and supporting issues that affect retired Texas public school personnel. Be sure to download the TRTA app to receive all of the latest updates and communicate with your fellow retirees.

Read More
28 May
0

A Message from TRTA President Leroy DeHaven

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) is requesting Governor Greg Abbott to consider adding a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or other benefit increase for members of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) to the call for the special session.

Here is the letter from Tim Lee, TRTA’s Executive Director, to Governor Abbott. Earlier today, Tim Lee went live on Facebook and YouTube to discuss a letter from TRTA’s State President, Leroy DeHaven, about what happened with this session’s COLA bills. The recording is available here.

Below, you will find the full text of DeHaven’s letter.

TRTA Members,

TRTA set an aggressive and positive policy agenda for the 87th Legislature. Our near 100,000 members worked in partnership with the Legislature, and we achieved many of the items on our policy agenda. We want to thank all of our members, supporters, elected officials, and other state leaders who helped push the TRTA legislative priorities in the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature.

Our legislative victories this session include:

  • The preservation of funding for the TRS actuarial soundness plan that was passed in the 86th session. TRS was allocated $5 billion in new and additional funding as a result of this work. TRTA recognizes the Legislature’s commitment to meeting the promise made last session with this increased appropriations level for TRS.
  • Full funding for the TRS-Care program to meet the statutory commitment to the vital health care plan for TRS retirees.
  • Adopting significant changes to the TRS agency to put it back on a path to be more “member friendly” through the sunset process.
  • Many other administrative changes that will benefit retired and active TRS members.

One item, though, that was not addressed was the dire financial need of so many public education retirees who desperately need an increase in their modest TRS pension benefit.

TRTA is disappointed that a COLA for TRS retirees was not passed this session.

Our members are asking two basic questions: “What stopped the COLA from advancing?”; and “What now?”

What Stopped the COLA Bill From Advancing?

The most correct and accurate answer to this question seems to be that a cost-of-living adjustment was not a priority for the 87th regular session. This answer, though, necessitates some review of what happened on the issue this session.

The Texas Senate had a number of COLA bills as well as a supplemental payment bills drafted and referred to the Senate Finance Committee. None of those bills were given a hearing.

It is unfortunate that these bills were not given a public hearing. Retirees would have been able to offer public testimony. They would have been able to explain why it’s the right time to provide a COLA or other benefit enhancement. These bills all failed in the Senate.

The Texas House also had numerous COLA and supplemental payment bills and other strategies in play throughout the session. While all of them ultimately failed, the House had more activity on COLA and supplemental payment options for TRS retirees this session.

The most widely known of these options were HB 3214 by Representative Giovanni Capriglione and HB 3507 by Representative Glenn Rogers.

HB 3214 was a true COLA bill that would have provided a 6% increase to TRS retirees capped at $100 per month. The bill simply authorized the COLA and allowed the legislature to use any method it had available to fund the pension increase. The bill maintained the trust fund’s actuarial soundness. The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee held a hearing on HB 3214 and voted it out unanimously.

HB 3507 authorized a supplemental payment capped at $2,400 for all eligible TRS annuitants. The bill also maintained actuarial soundness with minimal impact on the system. The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee had a hearing on HB 3507 and voted it out unanimously.

These bills were sent to the House Calendars committee and were held there. TRTA requested a meeting with the Calendars Committee Chair Dustin Burrows; however, he did not meet with our TRTA Capitol legislative team. TRTA did meet with his staff and received advice to work with the Calendars Committee members. TRTA met with every Calendars Committee member and heard little to no resistance by these members to advancing the COLA or the supplemental payment bills.

Other legislators suggested TRTA leaders should meet with Representative Greg Bonnen, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Chairman Bonnen met with us on April 28, 2021. We are grateful to Chairman Bonnen for meeting with us. He provided some insight into why the bill had been held up in the Calendars Committee.

In a letter from Chairman Bonnen dated May 7, 2021, he stated: “Direct and candid dialogue is the centerpiece of trust between legislators and organizations like yours. To that end, I fully support a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for our state’s retired teachers, however the information provided by TRS gives me pause about whether this session is the appropriate time to move forward.”

Chairman Bonnen offered to facilitate a meeting between TRTA and TRS to discuss the differences in analysis on how HB 3214 may have impacted the system. The “cost” of the proposed COLA was of particular consequence.

Chairman Bonnen stated in the letter, “TRTA is a critical advocate for retired teachers, and I appreciate your commitment to remain constructive and helpful in these conversations today and in the future… I look forward to working together for the long-term benefit of those who invested so much in the future of our children and grandchildren.”

On May 11, 2021, TRTA met with TRS leaders. We reviewed the information and both sides agreed that it was factual. TRTA didn’t disagree with the information provided by TRS.

TRTA suggested ways to improve the actuarial analysis, as well as other key items related to the benefit the COLA would provide to TRS retirees.

TRTA asserted that the Legislature knew the methods available to provide a COLA. The two major conditions for the COLA had already been met, that the TRS fund was actuarially sound, and that the proposed COLA would be possible while still maintaining the fund’s actuarial soundness. The rest of the information, including pre-funding and finance costs, was relevant only to the methods of how the Legislature chose to authorize the increase.

TRTA’s perspective on the information provided by the TRS actuarial impact statement was that it could be used in a way to argue for or against the COLA.

Facts are facts, but how the information was used to support or deny an action is up to interpretation.

TRTA believes that a few elected officials may have focused more on some of the data points TRS provided than others. The view of these data points without proper context adversely impacted the bill’s progression.

The Texas House Calendars Committee never released HB 3214 or 3507 for a vote by the full Texas House and they died in committee.

On May 27, 2021, the Texas House took its final vote on the State’s budget for the coming biennium. During that bill’s final presentation to the Texas House, TRTA’s friend and champion for all TRS retirees, Representative Rafael Anchia, asked a series of questions to Chairman Bonnen on the House floor that focused on how the legislature did not act to provide a benefit enhancement for TRS retirees.

Click here to see the full exchange between Chairman Anchia and Chairman Bonnen.

By the end of session, the answer provided by the Legislature to TRS retirees on what killed the COLA seems to be…TRS is not yet fiscally stable enough, therefore, not now. 

TRS is actuarially sound. More than 130,000 TRS retirees are earning an annuity of $1,000 per month or less. More than half of all current TRS retirees having never received a COLA during their retirement. The federal government still treating our retirees unfairly with both the WEP and the GPO. NOW is the best time for the Texas Legislature to act on a COLA.

The Legislature is still clearly hesitant to provide the full COLA. TRTA believes a supplemental payment could have and should have been authorized either through HB 3507 or by the budget amendment that was authored by Representative Yvonne Davis. Her amendment would have provided retirees with a full, uncapped 13th check. But the amendment was stripped from the final version of the budget.

The 87th Legislature ultimately chose to not act on any of these benefit enhancement options this session.

What Now?

The only path forward to helping TRS retirees in the immediate future is to have the issue of a COLA or other benefit increase added to the call for the coming special legislative session.

Governor Greg Abbott has the sole responsibility for calling a special session and for the issues the legislature may address during that session.

TRTA has, as of today, sent a letter to Governor Abbott asking him to add the issue of a TRS COLA or other benefit increase to the call for the first called special session.

TRTA will update our members on the Governor’s response.

TRTA has a near 70-year history working with the Texas Legislature. We are proud of our track record and our method of education and advocacy is appreciated and respected both by our membership and also by the elected officials who serve Texas.

What we have learned in our 70 years is that there is usually never just one single individual to blame for a legislative loss. In addition, we recognize the supercharged environment that exists today in the body politic. Most organizations and people who work in this world are pushing an agenda or political point of view in order to influence votes for one party or another.

TRTA has offered a factual representation of what we know about the COLA and supplemental payment discussions from this session. It is very likely that some in the Legislature may not like that we have been this transparent with our members.

TRTA, though, is dedicated to doing the right thing and to being honest and open with the people who put their trust in our work on their behalf. We work for our members. Our objective is to take our members’ needs and concerns to the Legislature, work to achieve those objectives, build relationships with elected officials on all sides of the political spectrum and to win on the merits of the issues themselves.

We have also clearly articulated the many achievements and positive actions taken on behalf of and for all TRS members this session by the Legislature. Again, TRTA is grateful for this work, and we are proud to stand with all legislators who helped on these important issues.

The issue of the COLA, though, is one that impacts the pocketbook of hundreds of thousands of deserving and patient TRS retirees.

The only path forward to helping TRS retirees now is to have the issue of a COLA or other benefit increase added to the call for the coming special legislative session.

Under Texas §821.006 Government Code, the Texas Legislature may provide authorization for TRS to issue a benefit increase to TRS retirees so long as that benefit increase would not push the system’s unfunded liability beyond 31 years.

TRS retirees have been assured by Texas policy makers for two decades that when the system was actuarially sound, as suggested by Texas §821.006 Government Code, their work and self-sacrifice would be rewarded with a much-needed pension increase.

Our members believe that elected leaders made a promise to help them when the TRS pension trust fund was actuarially sound. Now is that time. A COLA would improve the retirement security of all TRS members, as well as preserve the TRS fund. It is the right thing to do. It would benefit approximately 400,000 Texans who dedicated their lives to the service of Texas communities, parents, and students. Now is the time to help them.

We are asking all TRS retirees to join us and to help work to achieve a COLA or benefit enhancement now. We are working to see this issue revisited in a coming special session. Please join us as we continue our work to win for all TRS retirees.

Sincerely,
Leroy DeHaven, TRTA President

Thank You

The TRTA membership drive is underway for the coming 2021-22 membership year. No other group focuses solely on your TRS retirement security! Please join us today!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA and supporting issues that affect retired Texas public school personnel. Be sure to download the TRTA app to receive all of the latest updates and communicate with your fellow retirees.

Read More