10 Mar

TRTA Convention Update Regarding Coronavirus

Dear Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) Members,

The health and well-being of our members is our top priority. In the wake of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, TRTA is monitoring the spread and outbreak of this respiratory illness.

Currently, our state convention is slated for April 6-8, 2020. Like many of our members, we are examining this situation to make the best decision possible on hosting this meeting. We will continue to keep everyone updated as to the status of the convention.

We are working closely with all of our event partners and host venues to inquire about any additional safeguards at our convention to protect participants. We appreciate your patience during this uncertain time. Our members should be confident that TRTA will analyze the situation closely and communicate as soon as we have a more definitive answer.

Please read the information below from the Center for Disease Control about protecting yourself and your family from the coronavirus.

Tim Lee
TRTA Executive Director

People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19

If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should:

During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible.

Who is at Higher Risk?

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. This includes:

  • Older adults
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions like:
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Lung disease

If a COVID-19 outbreak happens in your community, it could last for a long time. (An outbreak is when a large number of people suddenly get sick.) Depending on how severe the outbreak is, public health officials may recommend community actions to reduce people’s risk of being exposed to COVID-19. These actions can slow the spread and reduce the impact of disease.
If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.

Get Ready for COVID-19 Now

  • Have supplies on hand
    • Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time.
    • If you cannot get extra medications, consider using mail-order for medications.
    • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
    • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.
  • Take everyday precautions
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
    • Take everyday preventive actions
      • Clean your hands often
      • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
      • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
      • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
      • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places.
      • Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
      • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)
      • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick.
  • If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, take extra measures to put distance between yourself and other people
    • Stay home as much as possible.
      • Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks
  • Have a plan for if you get sick:
    • Consult with your health care provider for more information about monitoring your health for symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
    • Stay in touch with others by phone or email. You may need to ask for help from friends, family, neighbors, community health workers, etc. if you become sick.
    • Determine who can provide you with care if your caregiver gets sick

Watch for symptoms and emergency warning signs

  • Pay attention for potential COVID-19 symptoms including, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you feel like you are developing symptoms, call your doctor.
  • If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. In adults, emergency warning signs*:
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • New confusion or inability to arouse
    • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

What to Do if You Get Sick

  • Stay home and call your doctor
  • Call your healthcare provider and let them know about your symptoms. Tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help them take care of you and keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • If you are not sick enough to be hospitalized, you can recover at home. Follow CDC instructions for how to take care of yourself at home.
  • Know when to get emergency help
  • Get medical attention immediately if you have any of the emergency warning signs listed above.

What Others can do to Support Older Adults

Community Support for Older Adults

  • Community preparedness planning for COVID-19 should include older adults and people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them in their communities, to ensure their needs are taken into consideration.
    • Many of these individuals live in the community, and many depend on services and supports provided in their homes or in the community to maintain their health and independence.
  • Long-term care facilities should be vigilant to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19. Information for long-term care facilities can be found here.

Family and Caregiver Support

  • Know what medications your loved one is taking and see if you can help them have extra on hand.
  • Monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food items to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.
  • If you care for a loved one living in a care facility, monitor the situation, ask about the health of the other residents frequently and know the protocol if there is an outbreak.

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09 Mar

TRS Testifies Before House PIFS Committee About Building Lease

On Monday, March 9, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) testified before the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee. The testimony provided by TRS primarily focused on long-term facility planning for the TRS headquarters and the process leading to the recent decision not to move the investments division to the Indeed Tower.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie began his testimony with a statement, and he expressed that TRS is working to become more transparent in its future decision-making. He also expressed concern about TRS’s image of being “tone deaf.”

“It’s a privilege to serve our retirees around the state,” said Guthrie. “We are trying to be sound fiduciaries of the fund.”

TRS has come under fire from both members and legislators for its decision to lease space at Indeed Tower at the cost of $326,000 per month. However, TRS reversed that decision at its February board meeting. Instead, TRS is renewing its lease at 816 Congress, where its investment team currently resides. The move, paired with subleasing the Indeed Tower space, is expected to save the TRS pension fund more than $9 million.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez criticized TRS’s communication to the community about the lease. In particular, Gutierrez criticized TRS’s lack of transparency. Gutierrez pushed to know which law prohibits TRS from disclosing the details of the lease to the public.

According to Guthrie, section 552.143 of the Public Information Act limits the information that can be shared about any private investment deal. The Attorney General concurred with this reading of this newly passed section of law.

Gutierrez asked Guthrie about what other spaces were considered outside of the Indeed Tower. Guthrie said that the Indeed Tower was the only space considered. Guthrie said that it was the only downtown space was available. Gutierrez also encouraged TRS to work with the Attorney General to remove itself from the Indeed Tower lease.

Gutierrez added, “We (the legislators) deal in billions. We get it, but folks back home . . . they don’t deal in billions. They don’t deal in hundreds of thousands. They don’t even deal in thousands anymore.”

Rep. Gene Wu asked Guthrie if the decision to lease the Indeed Tower space was an aesthetic choice. Wu said that TRS wanted to “look like one of the big boys.”

While Guthrie didn’t agree with Wu’s sentiment, he said that the board felt that the Indeed Tower represented a good opportunity to attract talent.

Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins asked if there is any way to include the membership when the TRS Board makes big decisions.

“We need to do a better job of educating our members about what we’re doing and how we’re managing their fund,” replied Guthrie. “We’re looking at ways to reach them better.”

In addition to the legislators on the committee, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, who serves as the House Appropriations Chair, and Rep. Tony Tinderholt were in attendance.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association’s (TRTA) Executive Director Tim Lee provided testimony. “When our members think about this issue, they put it in context of what is their reality, and the idea of spending $326,000 per month is very eye-opening,” Lee said. Lee emphasized that TRTA thinks TRS made the right decision by not moving into the Indeed Tower, but that the agency needs to focus on opening up its transparency on these types of decisions.

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06 Mar

TRS to Testify at House PIFS Hearing on Monday, March 9

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) is set to testify this coming Monday, March 9 during a hearing of the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services (PIFS) Committee. As members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) know, TRS has been scrutinized for its involvement in leasing space in a downtown Austin high rise building known as the Indeed Tower.

The meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m. and will take place in room E2.026 of the Texas Capitol. A link to the live webcast of the meeting will be made available from this website on Monday morning. A meeting agenda can be found by clicking here.

TRS recently testified before the Senate Finance Committee regarding its facilities planning and the building lease and received harsh criticism from some legislators regarding the decision. You may read more about the meeting, which was held on February 25, here.

As TRTA reported a two weeks ago, the space TRS reserved at the Indeed Tower, which is still under construction, will be sub-leased per a decision made by the TRS Board of Trustees on February 20.

After the Senate Finance Committee hearing, Senator John Whitmire called for an inquiry into TRS business practices.

“We owe it to our dedicated active and retired teachers to ensure the investments of their hard-earned pension funds are sound and transparent,” Whitmire said on February 27 in a prepared statement.

TRS responded to news of the audit by saying the agency would cooperate fully and work directly with the Attorney General and State Auditor’s Office. The TRS statement added that the agency “has a diversified asset allocation that includes a portion of holdings in private real estate” and that “TRS is specifically authorized to diversify the portfolio in this manner under Texas Government Code Sections 825.301 and 4001.068.”

TRS’s private real estate holdings are “a significant driver of excess investment return for our educators and are an important part of our Strategic Asset Allocation, making up about 13.7% of the total Trust value, or about $21.7 billion.”

TRS responded to claims that the agency has ownership in the Indeed Tower by responding “TRS is legally restricted from divulging specifics on the underlying investment holdings of any private investment fund in which TRS invests.”

Stay tuned to the Inside Line as TRTA reports on the PIFS meeting on Monday.


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