24 Aug

Looking Back, TRTF Assisted Retirees in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

The Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF) is a charitable organization dedicated to helping active and retired school employees. One year ago, Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas and devastated thousands of lives. Among those lives was Diane Brady, a retired educator whose roof was ripped apart during the storm.

Brady is used to hurricane season. Each year she has a plan. She boards up the windows, stocks up on food and water and makes sure her insurance is up-to-date. But 2017 was different.

Harvey was a category 4 hurricane, and its powerful winds and torrential rains devastated Texas cities all across the shoreline. Brady lives in Ingleside, Texas. Ingleside is a small town located 17 miles south of Rockport, where the eye of the hurricane hit.

In its wake, Harvey created an unprecedented amount of property damage and flooding. Brady, a retired public schoolteacher was shocked by the amount of damage.

“I began to watch fences fall down. I began to watch cars get damaged,” Brady recalled. “Things just started to blow around.”

Brady experienced $18,000 in property damage from Harvey. Much of the damage was attributed to her roof. She had a 2002 roof that was ripped apart by the winds produced by the hurricane.

After the storm left, Brady applied for a variety of grants. Among those applications was one to the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation. TRTF, the charitable arm of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), raised more than $100,000 to be paid to Harvey’s victims.

Brady received the highest grant possible from TRTF in this endeavor, $1,000, towards her roof. Brady was surprised and elated when she received the check.

“I was floored. I had something in my hand that was tangible. That was a help, and $1,000 is a help,” Brady said.

Brady was disappointed by the lack of assistance her community, and retired educators, received from the state after the natural disaster struck.

“Your soul hurts when you’re left. When the state promises us certain things, we take them at their word, and then money goes to industry and not the needs of people,” Brady said.

The city of Ingleside is still feeling the effects of Harvey’s devastation. The library is closed. A local hotel is still shut down. The convenience stores aren’t fully stocked. And some of the local workforce either moved away or had to be retrained.

“It’s still going on, and in our minds it’s going on.” Brady said.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Harvey, and many communities have never fully recovered. Show your support for retired educators impacted by Harvey by donating to TRTF’s Disaster Relief Fund today!

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16 Aug

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and State Senator Joan Huffman Pen Letters Requesting TRS Avoid Raising TRS-Care Premiums

The Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, sent a letter to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees regarding the retiree health care program, TRS-Care. Patrick is asking the TRS Board not to raise retiree premiums for TRS-Care.

This letter was bolstered by a similar letter from Senator Joan Huffman (R – Houston), Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee. Senator Huffman’s committee is charged with oversight of matters related to TRS in the Texas Senate.

The board is considering raising the health care premiums for non-Medicare participants by $50 per month starting in Jan. 2019. The board is scheduled to meet Sept. 20, 2018.

Patrick’s letter says that “significant dollars” will need to be added to TRS-Care over the next several years.

“Because we are committed to our retired teachers, I am confident that the Senate will support additional funding for TRS-Care and I am hopeful the next Speaker of the House will follow our lead on this important issue,” Patrick wrote.

“Knowing plan experience has been positive and the Senate’s commitment to our retirees, I encourage the Board of Trustees not to raise healthcare premiums in 2019 for these retirees,” said Huffman. She also commended the TRS staff and leadership for their work to ensure better outcomes for the TRS-Care plan over the past year. TRS has been working with providers and members to ensure savings when possible and press for better health outcomes to help mitigate higher costs for medical treatment.

TRS-Care underwent significant changes during the last legislative session in 2017. Retiree premiums were raised, and benefits reduced. While the Legislature did add $212 million to TRS-Care via the special session, the health care program is projected to have another shortfall ranging between $400-600 million in 2019.

The letters released yesterday provide more insight about the projected shortfall, indicating it may be closer to $400 million instead of $600 million.

“TRS has started their preliminary work with state legislative officials to present their budget needs for the coming session,” said Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director. In addition, the TRS Board will decide in September to either increase TRS-Care premiums or leave them unchanged.

“The letters sent to the TRS Board provide a strong statement that premiums should not increase in the coming plan year, and that Senate leaders will seek additional funding for the TRS-Care plan next session,” said Lee.

“TRTA leaders and members have expressed their concern for financial stability of the TRS-Care program. Knowing that a looming health care shortfall is expected next biennium, retirees have been looking for some additional commitment from elected leaders to do more for this vital health care program.”

“The statements today from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Chairman Huffman are welcome comments on a desperate situation for hundreds of thousands of retired school employees. Many retired school employees are in financial distress after their health care costs drastically increased this year. We appreciate the Lieutenant Governor and Chairman Huffman going on record as supporting additional funding for TRS-Care,” concluded Lee.

Patricia Macias, TRTA President said, “TRTA members agree that the cost burden for this shortfall can’t be absorbed by our state retired educators. We know the legislative session is a lengthy process, and there are many needs that will be presented to elected officials. TRTA members will rally to the cause of increasing base funding for TRS-Care, as well as calling for additional funding for the TRS pension fund.”

TRTA will pursue an aggressive legislative agenda protecting the TRS defined benefit plan, working to increase funding for the pension fund, and pushing for a benefit increase for retirees and for additional funding for TRS-Care. TRTA already is working on these issues, and our members are engaged and active now, well before session begins!

TRTA will keep its members informed about any possible changes to TRS-Care premiums for 2019. TRTA urges all members to watch the TRS Board of Trustees meeting in person or online on September 20. TRTA will send out a link for the live meeting broadcast once it is posted in mid-September.

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31 Jul

Special Message About TRS Changing Rate of Return Assumption

Dear TRTA Members,

The major action by the Board of Trustees to lower their investment rate of return assumption from 8 percent to 7.25 percent will shape our state’s public policy on TRS for years to come.

TRTA is grateful to all the TRS Trustees for their long deliberation of this issue. This decision did not come easy and it did not occur without serious thought given to its wide-ranging ramifications.

We will direct all our efforts to ensure adequate funding is achieved for the pension fund.

Ultimately, the real focus must now be on our legislative activity. We must educate our elected officials and encourage them to do the right thing.

TRTA believes:

  • TRS must be managed by sound actuarial principles as outlined in Article 16 Section 67 of the Texas Constitution;
  • The Legislature should work with TRTA and other stakeholders to ensure the fund is appropriately funded and able to meet the actuarial conditions necessary to amortize promised benefit increases;
  • Texas TRS retirees are struggling financially. Every effort must be made to provide a benefit increase to TRS annuitants;
  • TRTA will OPPOSE any effort to reduce promised benefits to future TRS retirees. We will OPPOSE any attempt to transition TRS from a traditional defined benefit plan to a privatized defined contribution plan;
  • TRS-Care needs additional appropriation to stabilize the health care plan and reduce out-of-pocket costs to those who depend on it for their health care needs.

We believe in our members and their ability to communicate with elected officials. The TRS decision is NOT a doomsday moment, but we must recognize the next session will present an unparalleled challenge to TRTA and its members.

We will need to utilize all our advocacy skill, educational experience and our never-give-up determination to help the Legislature agree to public policy supporting our TRTA members and education retirees.

We must advocate for a sound funding policy; a policy that keeps the promise to our active school employees and provides a benefit increase for our current retirees.

Now is a time for action. The Legislature will need to act on these new funding challenges.

For TRTA members now is the time for education, advocacy and outreach. We need to work with our elected officials and improve TRS funding.

Now is also a time to act and participate in the electoral process and vote for those who choose to do the right thing to help TRS and TRS retirees.

If you have any doubt about your elected official supporting TRS and our TRTA agenda, now is the time to ask them.

Here are some good questions to ask those running for the Legislature in your area:

  • Will you commit to more funding for the TRS pension fund?
  • Will you support a funding policy that makes the TRS fund solvent and well funded?
  • Will you exhaust every opportunity to find a way to pass a benefit increase next session for current TRS retirees?
  • Will you support more permanent funding for TRS-Care and help make the program sustainable and affordable?
  • Will you oppose any effort to change the TRS benefit plan from a traditional defined benefit plan to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan for ALL current and future TRS retirees?

TRTA is preparing a questionnaire for the candidates running for Governor and Lt. Governor. The questionnaire will address the changes to the TRS pension fund. We will make that information public once we have responses.

You can count on TRTA to be your advocate. We need you and everyone you know to join in these efforts. While some may feel the all was lost after this decision was made, I believe our members never quit and never give in.

The challenge will be steep and climb will be tough, but we have fought our way up these hills before and TRTA will not rest until we reach the top again.

We are preparing a complete in-depth update on this matter in an issue of the TRTA member news bulletin The VOICE. If you are not a member and want to help us fight to protect your pension, improve your health care, and help us win retirees a much needed benefit increase, please join us today!

Thank YOU!

Tim Lee

TRTA Executive Director

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