The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met on Thursday, February 17, discussing a variety of matters that impact TRS annuitants, such as a TRS-Care one-time payment, customer service improvements, and future agency headquarters.
Trustees Approve One-Time Payment for TRS-Care Participants
During the 87th Texas Legislative third special session in fall 2021, the Legislature appropriated $286 million to TRS active and retiree health programs through Senate Bill 8. This appropriation allowed TRS to obtain reimbursement for COVID-19 related claims from a one-time federal funding source.
Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) membership supported and advocated for this bill as a part of its push to help both TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare participants. SB 8 passage was a significant achievement in favor of retired educators and active school employees participating in these health care programs.
From the $286 million additional appropriation for these programs, TRS-Care, the retiree health care program, will receive an additional $83 million appropriated to it this year.
Today, the TRS Board of Trustees decided that this funding will act as a premium offset for TRS-Care participants or surviving spouses.
A one-time payment of $448.12 will be sent to approximately 185,000 plan participants or surviving spouses on or about March 18, 2022.
The payment will arrive as a one-time check or direct deposit. This is in addition to retirees’ monthly TRS annuity.
TRS Trustees unanimously passed a resolution approving the payment during today’s meeting.
A few frequently asked questions are answered below by TRS, with others available online (please visit One-Time Payments for TRS-Care).
- Who is eligible for the one-time TRS-Care payment?
- To be eligible, the policyholder must be actively enrolled in TRS-Care as of January 1, 2022. They must still be enrolled in TRS-Care when funds are distributed in March 2022. If you’re the surviving spouse of a TRS retiree and enrolled in TRS-Care as of January 1, 2022, you may also be eligible to receive this one-time TRS-Care payment. Approximately 185,000 retirees and surviving spouses are eligible for this one-time TRS-Care payment.
- Will I pay taxes on this one-time TRS-Care payment?
- Generally, if you pay TRS-Care premiums with after-tax dollars, then, in most cases, you will not have to pay tax again on the amount you receive as a one-time TRS-Care payment. However, whether IRS considers the one-time TRS-Care payment as taxable income is largely dependent on your specific tax situation. Depending on your unique tax situation, you could owe income tax on part or all of the one-time TRS-Care payment when you file your 2022 income tax next year. TRS will not withhold federal income tax from this $448.12 payment. If you’re not sure about the tax impact of this one-time TRS-Care payment, you should consult a tax professional to determine how this may affect you for the 2022 tax year.
TRS Implementing Customer Service Improvement Plan
TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie discussed the agency’s plan to improve customer service.
“Right now, we are below water, not even treading it,” Guthrie said. He said TRS’s new communication initiatives “will get us back to the surface.” In January 2022, TRS received more than 100,000 phone calls, its highest total ever.
TRS says it has struggled in five key customer services areas: Benefit Estimates, Retirement Processing, Death Claim Payments, the Telephone Contact Center (TCC), and Employer Services.
TRS has a three-year plan to make improvements in these areas. The three-year plan includes immediate hiring and training of more staff to make improvements in these areas.
Some of the most significant improvements will be made through MyTRS upgrades, primarily through self-service, automation, and real-time updates to member information. Members will be able to schedule counseling appointments through MyTRS starting in April and perform their own benefits calculations. The full retirement packet will become available online for download, including all forms required. A chat feature will be implemented in fiscal year 2023.
TRS is also exploring the possibility of using text messages to communicate announcements to members to reduce number of phone calls about issues such as when annual statements become available online through MyTRS.
Because of the overhaul of the MyTRS system occurring in April 2022, all TRS members will need to register for a new account. This is due to enhancements being made to member account security and identity verification. TRS says it will provide more information about this process soon.
The TRS Ombuds office, implemented in 2021 because of the findings of the Texas Sunset Commission, is fully functioning and focused on addressing member complaints. The Ombuds is an independent office designed to offer a neutral and impartial review of member and retiree concerns and will provide an initial response to member and retiree outreach within five business days.
Any member desiring to communicate a concern, ask a question that initial customer service agents were unable to answer, or file a complaint with the Ombuds may do so by completing and submitting the intake form, emailing at email@example.com, or by calling 1-833-873-2331.
TRS Provides Update on Headquarters and Facilities
Director Brian Guthrie reported that TRS continues to work on the design of the new agency headquarters building, with a projected summer 2022 timeframe for beginning construction. Meanwhile, the current headquarters building on Red River is now on the market for sale. The Board plans to review offers on the building, which are due in April, either this summer or in the fall.
TRS is also moving ahead with leasing office space in El Paso at the Education Service Center. The office will open this summer and will have retirement counselors on staff.
Stay tuned to the Inside Line for more information about issues that impact Texas public education retirees. The next meeting of the TRS Board of Trustees is scheduled for April 28-29, 2022.
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