UPDATE at 2:55 p.m. July 14, 2017: TRTA has received information from the Governor’s office that the call for special session is sufficient to include addressing TRS issues. We are now asking you to contact the Governor’s office and ask that TRS-Care funding be made a priority during the special session!
This has been a busy week for public education retirees in Texas. With multiple proposals on the table, Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) retirees are grateful to know so many state leaders and legislators are looking for ways to improve funding for the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program.
Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) know that House Bill 3976 may have saved the TRS-Care program from complete collapse, but that does not take the sting out of how those changes will impact retirement security for hundreds of thousands of TRS retirees.
Earlier this week, State Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) rolled out two bills for the special session. One bill, HB 76, would authorize TRS to provide a cost-of-living increase for all TRS retirees who did not receive a COLA in 2013 when the Legislature authorized the first pension increase for retirees since 2001. TRS annuitants retired as of August 31, 2004 or before received that raise. Anyone who retired after that date did not.
Representative Darby also filed a bill, HB 80, to move $100 million more into TRS-Care for the coming biennium. This was welcome news as retired educators started sensing the special session may provide a real opportunity for legislators to improve upon the changes made to TRS-Care that go into effect January 1, 2018.
On Wednesday, July 12 more than 800 retired and active school employees rallied in Longview to send a message to legislators as they prepare for special session: We need better from our elected officials!
Yesterday, July 13, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick laid out an aggressive legislative agenda that included additional funding for TRS-Care and bonuses for TRS retirees. Patrick also released a video message for retired teachers via his Facebook page.
Today, July 14, State Representative Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) filed a bill, HB 151, to move $1 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) (the Rainy Day Fund) to TRS-Care. This bill is designed to provide $250 million in additional support to the program every year for the next four years, and cannot be used to offset the normal contributions to TRS-Care from the Legislature.
Representative Gooden is a strong supporter of retired and active educators and has worked closely with TRTA over the years. His bill incorporates ideas from his constituents as well as proposals TRTA has suggested, and will vastly improve the program if passed. Representative Gooden’s letter to Governor Abbott can be found here.
While all the proposals vary in their impact on TRS-Care, we can be sure of at least two things: many elected officials want to help TRS retirees, and if the House and Senate do not agree on at least one of these proposals, retirees will lose out on a great opportunity to improve the program.
TRS-Care would reap huge benefits if the Legislature pre-funded TRS-Care with $1 billion from the ESF as proposed by Representative Gooden. Gooden’s bill would nearly double the state’s contribution. With those extra dollars, TRS retirees could see reduced deductibles, improved benefits, and a far less burdensome hit for doctor visits or medication.
However, use of the Rainy Day Fund is no simple task. Approval of using funds from the ESF requires a two-thirds majority of members in both chambers. Many in the Legislature did not want to use the state’s saving account for anything less than a dire emergency. Many TRS retirees have said the TRS-Care crisis is such an emergency.
Representative Gooden’s bill also calls on TRS to keep the Legislature more informed about the status of TRS-Care, as well as program cost drivers and medical trend data. Representative Gooden has said he does not want the Legislature to be kept in the dark about TRS-Care’s money woes, and that retirees should not have to fear losing their benefits and beg to keep their preferred doctor.
The Lieutenant Governor also suggested retirees need help with growing TRS-Care costs. His proposal includes the use of additional revenue to help TRS retirees with disability dependents, as well as lowering prescription costs for pre-65 retirees and dependent costs for retirees age 65 and over.
Offering an idea to dedicate revenue from the proceeds of lotto sales, Lieutenant Governor Patrick wants to provide retired and active school employees with an annual longevity bonus. This is an interesting proposal, as it provides a way for retirees with 20 or more years of service to receive some much-needed financial help. This approach would not increase the TRS pension fund unfunded liability, and would not be subject to the law that prohibits TRS from providing a pension increase or supplemental payment if the fund is not actuarially sound.
Whether the House and Senate can agree to adopt this proposal without detracting from school funding is still to be determined. However, TRTA is encouraged to see alternative ideas being proposed to help retirees who are in desperate need of an increase in their income.
First Things First
TRS-Care proposals will be useless unless Governor Abbott adds TRS-Care to the call for this special session. Retirees cannot afford to have legislative gridlock on this important issue!
TRTA members are fearful that their healthcare is going to be unaffordable, or that their doctor will refuse to accept their insurance after changes are implemented next year. These concerns cannot be assuaged by words and promises. Retired educators need more than promises. We need bold action and we need it now!
TRTA commends Representatives Lance Gooden and Drew Darby for proposing their initiatives. We are also grateful to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for his focus on TRS issues this special session.
Retired educators know that it will take bold action, bipartisan cooperation, and all elected officials working together to achieve these goals. It is far too easy to offer great ideas and let politics-as-usual kill them, leaving retirees with a handful of promises and no real financial relief.
Retired educators have all eyes focused on this special session. Merit can be found in all of these proposals. A billion dollars would provide serious financial relief for the next two biennia if Representative Gooden’s bill is adopted. Retirees in need of real financial help would welcome a dedicated funding source for a longevity bonus paid every March as proposed by the Lieutenant Governor.
Now is the time to work together on these ideas. Allowing them to die on the altar of good intentions will not sit well with retired educators. In fact, it may be the surest way to inflame them even more.
Our TRTA call to action is simple! Please click here to send an email to Governor Abbott asking him to add TRS-Care to the call this special session. TRTA enjoys a good relationship with the Governor, and we hope he will consider this issue and add it to the call. Without a place to start, these ideas are doomed to going nowhere!
If and when TRS-Care funding is added to the call for special session, TRTA will do all we can to work with state leaders and legislators to help our dedicated public education retirees!
Thank you for your membership to TRTA! TRTA has more than 82,000 members, but there are more than 320,000 TRS retirees. That means hundreds of thousands of TRS retirees are not involved in the largest retiree organization advocating for their TRS benefits. To improve funding for TRS-Care, we need as many retirees as possible to join TRTA and stand with us!
It is vital that you join TRTA today! If you already are a member, please ask your fellow retirees to join. Many retirees are still unaware of the impending TRS-Care changes! Let’s all work together to improve retirement benefits for current and future retirees.
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