02 May 2017

Texas House Scheduled to Vote on HB 3976

ALERT! The Texas House of Representatives has added HB 3976 to its calendar for Wednesday, May 3.

Click here to email your Representative

As members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) know, the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program currently faces a $1 billion budget shortfall. If nothing is done this session to address it, retirees will carry the full burden of the shortfall. This means staggering premium increases, benefit cuts, or a combination of both.

Without some action this session, retired school employees could see the dissolution of the plan even as soon as the next year or two!

Facebook Live Event

TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee and Legislative Coordinator Bill Barnes will be discussing HB 3976 and TRS-Care tonight (May 2) on Facebook Live at 6PM CST. You can watch this live stream via TRTA’s Facebook page.

TRS-Care Options

Much progress has been made on improving the stability of the TRS-Care program, but many of the program changes require retirees to pay more out of their pockets.

The trend of more costly healthcare is has been experienced by nearly all Americans over the last decade. TRTA certainly is not unaware of this reality; but we have argued that TRS retirees’ income largely is fixed, and their actual buying power is eroded due to inflation and the lack of regular pension increases.

Few in the Legislature would disagree with this premise, and many have filed legislation to provide retirees with an increase in their benefits. However, those bills are not likely to pass this session because the TRS pension fund currently cannot sustain benefit increases (per state law, the pension fund must be able to amortize its unfunded liability within 31 years or less in order for such increases to be approved).

The options available to deal with this health care funding challenge focus on more money for TRS-Care, as well as retirees paying more for their insurance.

The Texas House version of TRS-Care reform is based on a budget strategy that includes $633 million more funding for retiree healthcare. While this eases the pain on retirees, the fact remains that program changes are still necessary for TRS-Care to exist.

Those changes will be voted on tomorrow, Wednesday May 3, as HB 3976 moves to the House floor.  

The bill is critical to the solvency of TRS-Care, as time in this session is running out to address the shortfall. The 85th Legislative Session is scheduled to end May 29.

It is important that TRTA members understand that we are at a critical time in this process. TRS-Care has never been in such a dire position as it is today, and action is needed to keep the TRS-Care plan sustainable. 

To be clear, the Texas House budget includes a one-time infusion of cash from the Rainy Day Fund, as well as an increase in the ongoing state appropriations for TRS-Care.

The importance of HB 3976 is that it changes the plan design to implement a single-option healthcare plan for retirees, with a specific option for pre-65 retirees (a High-Deductible plan), and a specific option for retirees over the age of 65 (Medicare Advantage).

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) provided these options to the Legislature through a study group that met last year. These are the only plan design change options on the table for consideration.

In order for TRS-Care to survive and offer some form of benefit to retirees, the Legislature must agree to more funding for TRS-Care and pass a bill that instructs TRS on how to implement plan design modification. The more money provided through the Legislature, the less money retirees will have to pay out of their pockets.

TRTA urges the Legislature to adopt a final budget with the highest amount of funding possible for TRS-Care, and to support plan design changes as recommended by TRS.

TRTA supports HB 3976 and we ask the Legislature to continue to improve the TRS-Care plan design by providing as much revenue as possible to the ailing retiree healthcare program.

HB 3976 Plan Design

Projected Pre-65 Retiree Premium Costs (Retiree only):

Year House Premium Plan (HB 3976)
2018 $200/month
2019 $250/month
2020 $310/month
2021 $370/month

(HB 3976 also provides a zero-cost premium for TRS-Care pre-65 members who retired with a disability annuity. Please note, the zero-cost option would only apply to the disabled retiree, not to the spouse, and the provision would end in FY 2021).

Retirees age 65 and over: All retirees age 65 and older will be transitioned to the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plan. The premiums would be approximately $146 per month.

Projected 65 and Over Retiree Premium Costs for Medicare Advantage (Retiree only):

Plan Year 2018-2021: $146/month

You can learn more about HB 3976 by clicking here.

What You Can Do Now!

We need TRTA members to call and email their legislators today and ask them to support HB 3976. While the changes being proposed in this bill may not be ideal, they offer the best hope for TRS-Care’s survival.

Your TRTA Legislative Team will continue to work with legislators to improve the plan, and your voice matters as we work to see this bill through to its final passage.

When you talk with your legislator, we advise you to be appreciative and complimentary for the long hours legislators are working as the last month of session is underway.

We also suggest that you remain firm on the need for a solution to TRS-Care that includes the highest appropriation possible for TRS-Care. It will take two bills to solve our TRS-Care issues this session: a budget that has the most money possible for TRS-Care, and a bill that provides flexibility to TRS on making changes to the health care plan to ensure it survives.

It has taken everybody—our friends in the House, the Senate, at TRS, TRTA, and more—to find ways to keep TRS-Care sustainable.

HB 3976 is the best vehicle available for ensuring that TRS-Care is sustained and does not head into a “death spiral.” We are asking for your help today to contact your legislators to keep this process moving forward so that TRS-Care can continue!

Please call and email your Representatives NOW!

Call your Representative using our toll-free Legislator Hotline: 1.888.674.3788

Click here to email your Representative now!

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here. Be sure to read our comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions about TRS-Care here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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28 Apr 2017

TRTA Day at the Capitol is Here! MEMBER ACTION ALERT!

Invite your legislators to join us today for TRTA Day at the Capitol! Clicking here!

Today, March 29, is the Texas Retired Teachers Association Day at the Capitol event! More than 1500 retired educators from across the state will arrive on the east grounds of the Texas Capitol wearing red shirts, carrying red bags and rallying in support of funding for vital pension and health care programs!

TRTA IS THE VOICE FOR EDUCATION RETIREES, and we want to be seen and heard today! Though many of our retirees would like to attend this event, not all are able. We want your voice to be heard today too! Here are some ways you can participate and promote the causes that matter most to retired educators.

Here are three things you can do today to promote TRTA Day at the Capitol!

1. Email Your Legislators Today!

Help us extend an invitation to all legislators and their staff members to join us for our rally on the Capitol south steps and ice cream social on the east lawn! We’d also like for our legislators to come out and speak to retirees during our rally and share some encouraging words.

Click this link to send your email now!

2. Call Your Legislators Today!

If you are unable to send an email or prefer communicating via telephone, please call your legislator today using the Legislator Hotline: 888.674.3788.

Please let them know we appreciate them, and that TRTA and its members will continue to work with them to ensure that benefits for current and future retired educators are protected. Let them know we want to show our gratitude by inviting them to our rally and ice cream social. The rally begins at 11:30 a.m. on the south steps and the ice cream social begins at 12:30 p.m. on the east lawn. All legislators and their staff members are welcome. (Please note, in the event of rain, our rally on the south steps will move to the TRTA tent on the east lawn).

3. Download and mail the TRTA Day at the Capitol Fact Page to Your Legislators!

Download our Day at the Capitol Fact Page and mail it to your legislators! Though many members will hand-deliver this flyer today, we want ALL legislators to receive one. We would appreciate your help spreading the word about the bills and initiatives that TRTA is supporting this session.

Please click here if you would like to download the TRTA Day at the Capitol Fact Page.

Address for State Senators:
The Honorable (full name)
Texas Senate
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711-2068

Address for State Representatives:
The Honorable (full name)
Texas House of Representatives
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, TX 78768-2910

To find out who your Senator and Representative are, please click here.

Thank You!

Thank you again to everyone participating in the TRTA Day at the Capitol. We appreciate you coming to Austin, or virtually participating through the email advocacy campaign, phone calls or mail. Your membership is what makes TRTA the successful organization that it is!

Please be sure to stay tuned into the Inside Line throughout the 85th Legislative Session, as we will be bringing you all the latest updates on our broad legislative agenda. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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21 Apr 2017

TRS Board Elections Underway, Legislature Budget Conferees Named, and More!

While activity continues at the Texas Legislation to address the TRS-Care shortfall, this edition of the Inside Line will focus on some other key issues and actions that Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) members should know about.

I. TRS Board of Trustees Elections: Be Sure to Vote!

Elections are now underway to fill two seats on the Board of Trustees for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The members elected to the Board of Trustees of TRS represent your interests! There are two open trustee positions: a Retiree seat and an At-Large seat.

As a retiree, you get to vote for one person for the retiree position and one person for the at-large position (active employees may only vote for the at-large seat).

PLEASE do not vote for more than one person per position on your ballot. Otherwise, it will be invalidated.

While TRTA will not tell you how to vote, we will tell you how vital it is that you vote! If you are you a retiree who wants your voice represented on the TRS Board of Trustees, your vote matters!

TRTA members, voting in this election is an easy way to send a message that you care about what happens with your pension. Many times, these elections do not have much voter participation. Can you imagine the “wow” factor if more than 100,000 retirees voted in this election? It would be amazing!

According to the TRS March Newsletter, “one position will be appointed by the Governor from a list of the three candidates who receive the most votes after nomination and election by TRS retirees who are receiving benefits. The other position, a new at-large seat on the board, will be appointed by the Governor from a list of the three candidates who receive the most votes after nomination and election by both TRS retirees and active members. The at-large seat on the board was formerly reserved for a candidate from higher education. Both appointments will be for terms expiring on August 31, 2023.”

The Candidates

To read more about all of the candidates, click here! TRTA is honored to have two members running for the retiree position on the TRS Board of Trustees. James D. Nance and Fran Plemmons are both dedicated association volunteers and leaders. Please take some time to read the short biographies listed on the TRS website for all candidates.

How to Cast Your Vote

All TRS members should have received a copy of the TRS March Newsletter in the mail. Within the newsletter is a paper ballot containing voting instructions. There should also be a postage-paid return envelope included with the ballot. Eligible annuitants and active employees will have the opportunity to vote via the Internet as well. Instructions for both voting methods are included with the ballots.

Both eligible retirees and active members may now cast their ballots in the at-large election. In addition, eligible retirees may cast their ballots in the retiree election. Retirees may vote for one candidate in both of these elections. (Please note that active members of TRS, also known as current employees, will receive a ballot containing only the names of the candidates seeking to be appointed to the at-large position on the board). Space on the ballots has also been provided for write-in candidates.

To be counted, ballots must be returned in envelopes received by TRS no later than May 5, 2017. Your ballot must be in the TRS office by May 5, not postmarked by that date. Be sure to send your ballot in the mail as soon as possible so that it is received in time!

If you prefer, you may cast your vote online following the instructions included with your ballot. Please note you may only use one voting method: mail or Internet. Internet votes must be cast by 5:00 p.m. (CDT) on May 5.

Names of the top three candidates, along with the number of votes they received in each election, will be submitted to the Governor. The Governor will then appoint one of the individuals in each election to fill a six-year term beginning as early as September 1, 2017.

Make your voice heard and cast your vote today!

II. Legislature Names Budget Conferees

As the 85th Legislative Session continues, progress on TRS-Care and the Texas budget is speeding up! As you may know, both the Senate and the House create their own versions of the state budget for the coming biennium. Those budgets often differ in how much funding is designated for programs and projects. As a result, a Conference Committee consisting of Senators and Representatives is appointed, and this group of legislators negotiates the details of the budget that ultimately gets passed by the end of the session.

The Senate and House named conferees to the committee this past week. Representing the Senate are Senators Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Juan Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown). Representing the House are Representatives John Zerwas (R-Richmond), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), and Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock).

These Senators and Representatives will be responsible for determining how TRS-Care is funded for the next two years. TRTA will keep you informed about upcoming meetings of the committee, and how you can help as the Legislature continues to refine its proposals for the retiree health insurance program.

III. Josh McGee Confirmed by Senate to Lead Pension Review Board

Governor Greg Abbott appointed Josh McGee, the Vice-President of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, to be the Chairman of the Pension Review Board (PRB) in November 2015. When McGee was announced as Abbott’s choice to chair the PRB, TRTA expressed its opposition. The Texas Senate must confirm all Gubernatorial appointees, regardless of when they are appointed, during each legislative session in order to continue serving.

The Texas Senate Committee on Nominations reviews all nominations and recommends nominees to the full Senate. The committee, chaired by Senator Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), met in March to review Mr. McGee’s nomination. During the meeting, McGee testified to the Senate Nominations Committee, and his confirmation was voted forward.

Senate confirmations require a two-thirds vote of Senators present at the time of the vote. This requires 21 votes when all 31 Senators are present, or 20 votes when only 30 Senators are present. Senate Democrats, who hold 11 seats, successfully have blocked McGee’s nomination since March.

However, yesterday (April 20) McGee’s nomination was confirmed 20-10 when one Senator was absent. The nomination was confirmed on a party line vote, with Republicans in the majority.

While McGee testified in March that he does not hold any preferences on pension plan design and “any type of plan can be designed well or designed poorly,” McGee has written many op-eds for the Manhattan Institute (a public policy think-tank). In his op-eds, McGee has shown a strong, consistent preference for defined contribution plans.

TRTA and our members must stay vigilant in protecting the TRS defined benefit plan. There is a well-funded national movement to replace all public employee defined benefit pension plans with defined contribution (401k-style) plans. Even this session, there has been an effort to replace the TRS defined benefit plan. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is a national leader in this movement.

Since its creation, TRS has never once missed a payment to its annuitants, and we need to keep it that way! TRTA will continue to attend all meetings of the PRB and keep you informed about any concerns that arise.

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here. Be sure to read our comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions about TRS-Care here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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