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03 Oct 2020
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U.S. Senate Candidate MJ Hegar Addresses TRTA Members During Town Hall

On Saturday, October 3, candidate for the United States Senate MJ Hegar spoke during a town hall held especially for members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA). Similar to an event held earlier in the week with Senator John Cornyn, Hegar addressed multiple questions about how Social Security impacts retirement for Texas public school personnel.

TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee greeted members and introduced the candidate, who is a decorated combat veteran and working mom. Hegar lives in Round Rock, Texas with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. During her opening comments, Hegar stated that she also worked in the health care industry for five years and said she is running for office “because I feel like our government doesn’t function for working people.”

Continuing with her introduction, she said, “I am a product of public education and proud graduate of public education,” and she believes “access to education will help us lead globally in the future and is an investment in our country.”

Lee remarked that he is grateful to both Senator John Cornyn and candidate MJ Hegar for their desire to be in public service.

He asked Hegar about her take on the work being done right now to fix the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which unfairly impacts the Social Security income of thousands of Texas retired school personnel.

“I support the bipartisan efforts to make the WEP fairer,” she said. “We need to ensure ya’ll received the benefits you have earned.”

In regard to passing legislation that would accomplish this, she disagrees with the politicians that say it can’t be done without overall reform of Social Security.

“We have the ability to come together and fix it instead of holding it hostage,” she added. She also said the WEP is the top thing she hears about from teachers.

Tim asked her opinion on why Congress is taking so long to pass this important reform, saying “we’ve worked on this for decades!”

MJ recalled a personal visit she made to Washington, D.C. as a private citizen to support legislation for women working in the military and was surprised to be told by some politicians that she did not have political capital.

“We need to get the influence of corporate PAC money out of Washington,” she replied.

She said it is important to elect servant leaders who can speak to the values of the people who oppose an issue and find common ground.

Many TRTA members and Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) members are also impacted unfairly by the Government Pension Offset (GPO). Tim Lee asked, “If elected, would you make GPO reform a priority?”

“Absolutely, I believe Texans have earned these benefits . . . I would support legislation that makes the GPO less arbitrary and punitive,” Hegar said.

A key factor in passing such legislation is to “put the right voices at the table, like TRTA,” she added.

She also said that issues like the WEP and GPO are not as complex “when you serve one group—the constituents.”

“When someone says things are complicated,” Hegar said. “It means they have competing priorities.”

Lee continued that by saying TRS retirees do not receive automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLAS). Even if TRTA wins more money for TRS retirees by working with the Texas Legislature, Social Security then reduces the money they are eligible for in their federal benefits.

“The argument that there isn’t enough money doesn’t hold water,” she said. The key to ensuring retirees receive what they have earned is prioritizing the distribution of money.

Lee asked Hegar to weigh in on public education funding in Texas, which faces significant deficits due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hegar said there is an urgency to providing federal funding for education. “Access to that funding should be the primary consideration of our elected officials right now.”

Lee also asked about her stance on safety measures for schools during the pandemic.

Hegar, who has a six-year old kindergartner currently attending school virtually, said, “I am no replacement for a teacher!”

Citing her appreciation for teachers, she said schools should be reopened in measured ways and on the advice of medical experts, while the federal government provides support such as PPE and other resources during the crisis.

Citing her military experience, Hegar added, “Crisis management 101 is you create rubrics and take into consideration objective metrics.” She said decisions should be made based on accurate information and “asking groups what they need instead of telling them what they need.”

Lee asked if she supports mandating molecular rapid testing of individuals before they can enter nursing homes or other long-term care facilities.

“I certainly do support that, but the way we’re going falls short,” she said. She cited facilities that have testing machines but not having the funds to also pay for test results as part of the problem, in addition to inaccurate testing.

She added that we need to “get the pandemic under control and put provisions in place to protect these facilities and provide access to PPE,” stating that it’s harder to manage the pandemic while it’s being politicized.

Lee inquired about her stance on controlling Medicare costs and slowing the alarming increase in costs for prescription drugs, telling Hegar that more than half the costs for retirees in TRS-Care is for prescription drugs. “Many can’t afford their medicine, which they often need to survive!” Lee said.

Hegar said that one solution is to create a public option so that people can buy into Medicare, which will help make it more solvent. She said this option could also help working-age people who should have the option to choose what health care works best for them.

“Having more people covered lowers the cost of health care, by definition,” she said.

She also cited a need to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which is easier to do when the program is not beholden to drug companies. She said there needs to be a balance that would prevent greed and corruption without so much regulation that it prevents business from happening.

“It’s possible for pharmaceutical companies to do this and still be profitable without victimizing people,” she said.

TRTA appreciates our members for watching this important discussion with Senate candidate Hegar. Thank you for being engaged in this election cycle!

Although the pandemic has prevented us from meeting in person and proceeding like we have in years past, it has afforded TRTA unique opportunities to host public forums with candidates and present information to our members in new ways.

Thank you for being a dedicated member of TRTA! If you’re not a member of TRTA and would like to join, click here today!

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02 Oct 2020
0

MJ Hegar Town Hall Scheduled for Saturday, October 3

On Saturday, October 3, candidate for the United States Senate MJ Hegar will speak during a town hall held especially for members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA). Similar to an event held earlier in the week with Senator John Cornyn, Hegar will address member-submitted questions about topics such as Social Security and health care. MJ Hegar is Senator Cornyn’s opponent in the November General Election.

The town hall will occur at 2:15 p.m. tomorrow. To register for MJ Hegar’s town hall, click here.

The registrations are only open to TRTA members. There is a 3,000-person cap on each of the webinars, so be sure to register today! Due to various media constraints, we are unable to broadcast this event after it airs live. We are sorry for this inconvenience. However, we have space still available for those who are interested. Please register today!

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the Zoom application to your devices. Learn more at Zoom.us!

This is a great opportunity not only for our current members but also for any Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) retiree or pre-retiree to get involved and participate in the election process. While TRTA does not endorse any candidates for political office, we want to be sure our members are informed and have the resources they need to make educated decisions. Most importantly, we want our members to know how important it is to vote in every election!

Thank you for being a dedicated member of TRTA! If you’re not a member of TRTA and would like to participate in these events, join us today!

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29 Sep 2020
0

Senator Cornyn Speaks to TRTA Members During Town Hall

On Tuesday, September 29, U.S. Senator John Cornyn participated in a live town hall hosted by the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA). The unprecedented event gave TRTA members the opportunity to hear from the Senator, who currently is running for re-election, about issues such as Social Security and the unfair provisions that impact public servant retirees’ SS income.

Led by TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee, the Senator addressed multiple questions submitted in advance by members about the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), among other topics.

Cornyn stated he has been working with Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Kevin Brady on the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2020 (S.3401), saying if passed, it would replace the current WEP formula with one that is more fair. Before being eligible for a vote, it would first need to pass through the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.

“It would increase program costs by $23 billion but have no significant effect on long-range actuarial balance of Social Security,” Cornyn said, adding however, that “navigating complexities of Congress has not been easy.”

“Social Security is a politically fraught topic, generally,” Cornyn said. He considers resistance to changing the program the single biggest challenge moving forward to passing WEP reform.

He added that bipartisan support must be built, asking TRTA members to reach out to their friends and Representatives in the House asking them to cosponsor the bill “so we can build some momentum.”

Tim Lee asked if WEP reform could be added to some other legislation before the end of the year. Cornyn agreed it was possible, but that the issue would be decided by the gatekeepers, such as Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell.

Tim said many TRTA members have been working to have the WEP repealed for many years and want to know why the process is taking so long.

“As you know,” said Lee, “our retired teachers don’t have colas, and fixing this would really help them financially. . . our members have concerns about the timing.”

Cornyn responded “Our teachers don’t go into their chosen profession to get rich, but they do deserve to get treated fairly.”

“Your priority is my priority,” Cornyn added.

He also stated that opening up Social Security for legislation would not be limited just to the WEP, “which is the fear some members of Congress have.”

Tim Lee asked Senator Cornyn if he would support a solution for the GPO as well.

“Sure, absolutely,” Cornyn replied. “This would be part of a package try to get this done at the same time as the WEP.”

Cornyn reiterated that the issue is complicated. “We’re going to have to do comprehensive Social Security reform…the fact of the matter is we’re all living longer, working longer.”

One potential option for addressing the future of Social Security is to change the formula for younger workers, Cornyn said.

Tim Lee also asked Senator Cornyn about financial relief measures related to school funding. Cornyn said that because revenues have decreased as sales have decreased in Texas, education funding will be an issue next session, but that Texas’ share from the CARES Act passed in March 2020 was $11.2 billion and there is more funding to come.

He also said that there are many initiatives are in the works for helping students and educators stay safe as they return to schools, such as funds to provide PPE and plexiglass screens.

Cornyn says he supports the federal government doing “whatever we need to do to give people the confidence that they can return to schools safely,” but felt many of the decisions about schools reopening are best made at the local level by parents and teachers.

He also said that the pandemic made it clear that “broadband is literally a necessity.”

“We’re trying to expand that… but it takes a while to put the infrastructure in place,” he said.

Advanced broadband will also help with telemedicine and access to health care remotely in the more rural areas of Texas. “It may be the most convenient and safest way to receive health care,” he added.

Tim Lee also prompted Cornyn to discuss how the pandemic is affecting nursing home residents, asking if he supports rapid molecular testing to identify carriers before they can enter a facility.

“Absolutely,” Cornyn responded. “Advances in rapid testing are so important,” adding that there is a real danger of COVID-19 being spread to others even when carriers are showing no symptoms.

Tim also asked how Cornyn what steps he may be taking to reduce what retirees on fixed incomes have to pay for life-sustaining prescription drugs. Cornyn says he has been working on legislation with Senator Richard Blumenthal to discourage and eliminate abuse of the drug patent system, which would enable the creation of more affordable generic drugs.

Citing insulin as an example, Cornyn said, “There is no good reason for the high price . . . it’s an older drug.” He also emphasized that drug pricing is opaque. “None of that is transparent and none of it benefits seniors in their deductible . . . you end up paying the retail price.”

He said the bill he was working on with Blumenthal was making great progress before the pandemic hit, but the work was set aside and needs to continue.

“We’ve got the best health care system in the world, but it’s also the most expensive,” Cornyn added.

TRTA appreciates our members for watching this important discussion with Senator Cornyn. Thank you for being engaged in this election cycle!

MJ Hegar Town Hall Scheduled for October 3

TRTA will also host another live town hall event with Cornyn’s opponent in the General Election, MJ Hegar, on Saturday, October 3 at 2:15 p.m. To register for MJ Hegar’s town hall, click here.

The registrations are only open to TRTA members. There is a 3,000-person cap on each of the webinars, so be sure to register today!

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the Zoom application to your devices. Learn more at Zoom.us!

This is a great opportunity not only for our current members but also for any Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) retiree or pre-retiree to get involved and participate in the election process. While TRTA does not endorse any candidates for political office, we want to be sure our members are informed and have the resources they need to make educated decisions. Most importantly, we want our members to know how important it is to vote in every election!

Thank you for being a dedicated member of TRTA! If you’re not a member of TRTA and would like to participate in these events, join us today!

Read More