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26 Jun 2015
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TRTA Interim Update: Full Steam Ahead!

The regular session of the 84th Texas Legislature has ended well for members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA). Governor Greg Abbott recently signed House Bill 2 into law, which provides $768 million to fill the TRS-Care funding shortfall.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) voted earlier this month not to raise premiums on TRS-Care, and TRTA’s expectation is that TRS-Care premiums will remain the same for the upcoming biennium.

Legislative session may be over, but TRTA is busier than ever and gearing up for a strong second half to 2015!

As we look towards the work we must do for the interim, TRTA is ready to address the long-term solvency issues facing the health care program. Members from both the Texas Senate and House will serve on a committee to study options to maintain TRS-Care, and the bulk of their work will be done between now and January 2017.

This committee was established by another bill that was signed into law, Senate Bill 1940. The members of that committee have not yet been appointed. TRTA will continue monitoring the progress of the committee and will report back with new information soon.

TRTA has hosted numerous committee meetings at our state offices throughout June, and will host our District Presidents Leadership Training Conference starting on July 7. Additionally, we have finished production on the latest edition of The VOICE, which will start appearing in your mailboxes within the next couple of weeks.

Our greatest work, however, is pushing for the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). We need your help as we make the repeal of the WEP a top priority in the 114th Congress!

The WEP is an unfair federal law preventing retired educators from receiving their earned Social Security (SS) benefits. The WEP, which took effect in 1983, provides a means of eliminating the “windfall” of SS benefits received by beneficiaries who also receive a pension based on work not covered by SS. Many educators are blindsided by this news, and it can have a significant impact on their financial security.

Click on the image below to view our exclusive WEP video, featuring Congressman Kevin Brady!

Kevin Brady (R – The Woodlands) introduced HR 711 into Congress earlier this year, but the bill is stuck in the House Ways and Means committee. The bill needs more cosponsors from other states to advance.

HR 711 proposes to reduce the WEP for current and future retirees without impacting the SS trust fund. If passed, HR 711 could increase the lifetime SS benefits of retired teachers by between $20,000 and $32,400.

Many of the bill’s cosponsors are from Texas, and that shows a great dedication from our members to get traction for this bill. However, we must now expand our reach to Congressmen across the U.S. Please contact your friends, family and colleagues in other states, and ask them to contact their Congressmen and tell them to support HR 711!

On average, TRTA members report the WEP reduces their monthly income by $400. HR 711 will reduce the WEP for current retirees by as much as 33 percent. Future retirees will see the WEP’s impact reduced by as much as 50 percent.

Thank You

Your support helped us receive $768 million towards TRS-Care during the 84th Texas Legislative Session, but there is still more work to be done. Repealing the WEP is TRTA’s #1 priority, and your help can make all of the difference. Be sure to stay tuned to our other digital mediums to keep informed on all the latest news and updates. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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24 Jun 2015
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Thanking Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard

Many of our members may know and remember two great leaders in both the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) and Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF): Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard. Both gentlemen have served in multiple capacities for both organizations, guiding not only legislative activity, but also charitable giving and promoting the legacy of public education in Texas.

Recently, Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard have reached the end of their terms serving on Foundation’s Board of Trustees. June 30 marks their last day of official business on the board.

Lehr served as TRTA’s Executive Director from 1994 to 2003. Lehr spearheaded the development and lobbying of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Catch-Up Plan, which provided benefit increases for retired public educators for four consecutive legislative sessions. In 1995, the Texas Legislature approved a $1.6 billion increase for Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) annuitants.

After working for 38 years in public education, Lehr retired and became a TRTA member. Less than a year after starting his position on the Legislative Committee, Lehr became the chairman of the committee, and worked to solve the problem of retired educators receiving poverty-level annuity checks.

“There was a great challenge there that we needed to get something accomplished,” Lehr said.

Lehr worked with his Legislative Committee and TRS to develop the CPI Catch-Up, which proposed to dramatically increase the annuity payments owed to retired educators. Lehr used his previous work experience with the Austin Independent School District and the Texas Legislature to convince the Speaker of the House, Gib Lewis, and the Lieutenant Governor, Bob Bullock, to support the plan.

“That was quite a feat that we were able to pass the CPI Catch-Up,” Lehr said.

In 1994, Lehr was promoted to the position of TRTA Executive Director. La Vonne Rogers, who worked as the officer manager for TRTA during Lehr’s tenure as Executive Director, considers the CPI Catch-Up a miracle.

“People who had retired many years ago were living on practically nothing,” Rogers said. “All of a sudden the fund was fully funded, and we had lots of cooperation from the Legislature, because the people that were working with Mike wanted to see it happen.”

Lehr stepped down as TRTA’s Executive Director in 2003, and Tim Lee soon after filled the association’s vital role. Lehr began his tenure as a board member of TRTF in 2001, and he received the E.L. Galyean Service Award, TRTA’s highest honor, in 2002.

Tom Pritchard joined TRTA in 1988. Pritchard became the President of the Parker County RTA, and served in that capacity for three years. He went on to become the President of District 10, and he served as the TRTA State President from 2002-2004. Pritchard began his service to the Foundation board in 2001.

“I think that was one of the best decisions that I ever made,” Pritchard said. “(It) has really been a joy to be associated with that Foundation and all the work that we have accomplished with it.”

During Pritchard’s time as TRTA President, the organization opened the doors to its state offices right next to the Texas Capitol. The state office building’s purchase and construction was accomplished through many years of donations to TRTF, but finally came to fruition under Pritchard’s watch.

Pritchard would often make the six-hour round-trip commute from his home in Brock, Texas to TRTA’s state offices in Austin. “B” Zimmer, TRTA’s office assistant since 1981, remembers Pritchard’s enduring dedication and commitment fondly.

“No matter what they ask of him or if he sees something that needs to be done, he’s always (willing to) drive in and drive home. That’s a long ways in a day,” she said.

Among Pritchard’s many accomplishments as a TRTF board member, he was instrumental in the development of the “A Helping Hand” program, which provides grants for retired educators who are experiencing critical emergencies. Pritchard also spearheaded the “Legacy Campaign.” The “Legacy Campaign” promotes the positive image of public educators and works to connect active educators with retirees.


Tom and Jane Pritchard (left) with Mike and Francine Lehr (right) in front of the TRTA state office building.

 

Both TRTA and TRTF are deeply indebted to the efforts of Lehr and Pritchard. Their tireless work ethics have molded TRTA into the organization it is today, and their legacy will carry on long after their departures from TRTF. Thank you Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard.

Please consider donating to TRTF to carry on the initiatives started by Lehr and Pritchard. Your donations will not only help sustain “A Helping Hand” and the “Legacy Campaign,” but also will add to the scholarships and grants the organization provides to students and educators. Click here to make a donation.

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12 Jun 2015
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Closing Out the 84th Texas Legislative Session (FEATURING NEW TRTATV EPISODE)

Watch and share the latest episode of TRTATV! Do you have a question for TRTATV? Send an email to roy@trta.org, or submit your question via Twitter using the hashtag #TRTATV. You can also watch specific parts of this video by checking out the playlist.

On Monday, June 1, the 84th Texas Legislative Session came to the end of its 140 day journey. At the beginning of the 2015, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) sought to solve a massive budget deficit to TRS-Care, the health insurance program more than 240,000 retired public educators rely upon, and protect the provisions passed last session that made the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) actuarially sound.

We faced a significant hurdle, but thanks to the help of thousands of retired educators, TRTA was able to secure $768 million to supplement the budget shortfall facing TRS-Care. The supplemental funds will ensure that retirees’ insurance premiums will not increase during the upcoming 2015-2016 biennium!

However, the supplemental funds passed by the Legislature do not solve the core funding issue for TRS-Care, which is the disparity between basing contributions on active teacher payroll and burgeoning health care costs. The Texas Legislature will again be faced with choosing between providing more supplemental funding and resolving the TRS-Care crisis during the 85th Legislative Session that starts in 2017.

The provisions in SB 1458 were held intact during the session, despite attacks on teachers’ pensions by outside organizations. However, the Legislature did not pass an additional cost-of-living increase that would have covered the 100,000-plus retirees who did not receive the 3 percent increase in 2013.

Several bills were filed this session that would have provided a benefit increase or supplemental payment (thirteenth check). The TRS fund presently is financially healthy enough to provide some kind of increase, having earned more than $19 billion during the last fiscal year. However, none of the filed bills made it out of committee.

Two additional bills, HB 2168 and SB 1940, were passed during the 84th Legislative Session that will impact retirees’ benefits and health care plans. HB 2168 alters the dates on which TRS annuitants receive their monthly annuities. Previously, TRS distributed payments on the first working day of each month after the benefits were earned. Beginning in September 2015, TRS will distribute payments on the last day of each month in which the benefits are earned. Read more about your annuity payment schedule here.

HB 2168 will prevent retired educators from waiting additional days during holidays and weekends to receive their annuities.

SB 1940 forms an interim committee of Senators and Representatives which will study TRS-Care. The committee will seek information about how best to address the funding issues surrounding TRS-Care.

THANK YOU!

Thank you for your hard work during the 84th Legislative Session. Through your persistent contact and passionate pleas, TRTA was able to secure $768 million to protect TRS-Care premiums!

However, funding issues for TRS-Care still remain, and retired educators have only received one permanent cost-of-living increase since 2001. It is critical that retired school personnel band together during the interim, and make their voices heard.

Thank you for your membership in the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA). If you are not a member of TRTA and want more information about joining, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter! Visit our YouTube channel for regular video updates.

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