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05 Sep 2018
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House Appropriations Committee Meets, Discusses Future of TRS-Care

The Texas House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III met today to discuss funding for TRS-Care and the implementation of last session’s changes to the retiree health care program. The committee invited testimony from both the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), as well as stakeholder groups, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA).

The committee is chaired by Rep. Trent Ashby (R – Lufkin). Ashby has worked diligently with TRS and TRTA to provide additional state funding for TRS-Care in previous sessions. Last session, Ashby helped champion HB 3976, which provided $484 million to help fill the $1 billion TRS-Care budget shortfall. Ashby also helped to pass a special session bill that provided $212 toward TRS-Care.

Next session, TRS-Care is projected to have a $410 million shortfall. While the shortfall is significantly smaller than last year’s gap, TRS-Care still faces significant hurdles. The reason TRS-Care continues to face shortfalls each year is due to the program’s funding formula. TRS-Care is funded on the basis of active educator payroll. However, active educator payroll isn’t keeping up with the rising costs of the health care industry. These increasing costs have resulted in numerous budget shortfalls over the past several legislative sessions.

Retirees felt a huge hit to the benefits provided by TRS-Care when the state didn’t fully fund last year’s shortfall.

TRS Executive Director, Brian Guthrie, discussed how the efforts to fill in the TRS-Care shortfalls are like “fighting a losing battle.” He pointed out that while TRS was able to save close to $300 million for TRS-Care through provider-driven contract negotiations, the TRS Board of Trustees is still considering whether to raise premiums for non-Medicare participants by $50 per month and will discuss the matter on September 20 and 21 during their quarterly meeting. The change was originally laid out in the plan by the Legislature in 2017 to take a stair-step approach to raising retiree premiums.

However, since that time, TRS has received letters from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston) not to raise the premiums.

“Our board is very sensitive to perceived legislative intent,” Guthrie said.

Rep. Donna Howard (D – Austin) feels that the current pay-as-you-go system that the Legislature has used to fund TRS-Care is “detrimental to retirees.”

“You deal with the cards that you’re dealt,” said Howard to Guthrie. “We need to find some sustainable revenue streams.”

Guthrie detailed a long-term plan that the Legislature had as an option to pre-fund TRS-Care. This plan would involve the Legislature putting in enough money over a 10-year span to not only fund the shortfall, but also to add additional money that would be put into a “corpus.” Eventually, the corpus would have enough money in it to become its own investment entity, similar to the pension fund. However, to reach enough money to have the corpus cover the costs of TRS-Care would require $12 billion.

The changes to TRS-Care last year resulted in more than 36,000 participants leaving the program.

TRTA Executive Director, Tim Lee, also addressed the committee today. Lee detailed the many issues that retirees are suffering from as a result of the changes to TRS-Care, and he said that many people will continue to question whether they want to stay in the health care program. Open enrollment for health care plans in 2019 will begin October 15, 2018, and Lee expects many retirees to be “bombarded” with proposals from insurance agents to leave TRS-Care. Retirees who do choose to leave TRS-Care aren’t allowed back in if they are over the age of 65. Only retirees turning 65 have an opportunity to rejoin when they become age-eligible for the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plan.

TRTA has advocated for a “golden ticket” program that would offer retirees a one-time chance to rejoin TRS-Care regardless of their age.

“Medical costs aren’t going down,” Lee said. “We need an ongoing discussion about how to better manage this health care program.”

TRS-Care premiums were held steady for years because retirees weren’t receiving COLAs, which was the Legislature’s intent. “Going forward,” said Lee, “it’s important to recognize the need for more revenue.”

Lee said that the current funding rate for TRS-Care is too low, and that so long as this amount remains the same, TRS-Care will continue to have shortfalls.

TRTA members believe affordable, accessible health care for TRS retirees was once considered a retirement security benefit but is now seen by many as a broken promise. TRS retirees paid into TRS-Care throughout their careers, but the expectation of security in retirement is now threatened due to a fixed income that doesn’t keep up with the cost of living or even the cost of health care.

TRTA is ready and willing to work with all legislators to restore this promise and give retirees the security they need and deserve. TRTA acknowledges and appreciates the work of chairman Ashby and the members of the Appropriations Committee. Their work will be vital to determining the future of TRS-Care.

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04 Sep 2018
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Countdown to the General Election: Let’s Change History!

Labor Day has come and gone and with its passing begins the unofficial start of the 2018 mid-term election season. Historically, Texas tends to have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the United States, and that is something the members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) hope to change! Let’s change history this year! Let’s start with our dedicated public education retirees and get out the vote.

Although retired educators tend to vote in high numbers in general elections, I believe we can reach a retiree voter turnout of 99 percent! Let’s also make the effort to ensure that the other 1 million members of the Teachers Retirement System of Texas (TRS)–who are not yet retired–reach the same achievement!

If we accomplish this dramatic turnout, our 1.5 million voting block can change history and be the winning factor in any election in Texas. What’s even better is that when Texas educators win, Texas students win too. That is a win/win that really matters!

Such a turnaround in voter turnout is not easy and is not free of personal hardship or time commitment.  It takes hard work, a positive attitude and a can-do spirit to smile and keep persuading when naysayers say “I don’t vote because my vote won’t make a difference.”

TRTA believes, however, that the effort is worth the work! Dedicating your life to educating the populace is all about the results that can only be achieved through hard work. For years, you taught your students to never give up and keep trying. Now, retirees must do the same to effect change and improve our benefits!

The General Election will be held on Tuesday, November 6. Though that date is important, here in Texas we have the privilege of voting early and voting by mail. Election day really starts on October 22–about nine weeks from now. As educators we know you want to be prepared when the first bell rings, so get ready and we will make sure you have everything you need to motivate the naysayers and make it happen.

Every Tuesday over the next nine weeks heading into the early voting period (October 22-November 2), the Inside Line will provide information about how and when to vote, and how to locate resources that help you choose candidates who will support Texas public education and TRTA issues. Mark your calendars for class every Tuesday and use your teaching skills to share your knowledge with others.

Make your plan to vote early during this election cycle! Then use that extra time to share your enthusiasm and your voice with every Texas educator you know and help motivate them to exercise their most important right in our democracy. Together, we can all change history!

Texas Educators Vote

TRTA wants to make voting easy, understandable and fun. However, it is also an imperative for all Texas educators to vote because, put simply, we can’t win in the Legislature unless we have the right team working for us inside the Capitol.

TRTA is part of a coalition of education and civic groups called Texas Educators Vote that is dedicated to one thing and one thing only–creating a culture of voting in Texas public schools. We will be highlighting the resources and activities this coalition uses to motivate educators and students to exercise their right to vote over the next nine weeks. Meanwhile, you can check them out by clicking here. Their site even has a countdown clock and a one-click way to get registered to vote!

The First Message

This week the message is simple: you can’t vote if you are not registered! Although most of our members are registered voters, it pays to verify your registration. If you have moved recently or know someone who has moved, it never hurts to verify voter registration in the new location.

You can find out if you are registered by clicking here. The deadline to register to vote in the November 6 General Election is October 9. Let’s change history this year and have 100 percent of all TRTA members registered to vote!

Register, Educate, Vote!

Stay tuned for next Tuesday’s edition of the Inside Line when we will discuss voting by mail. If you are 65 or older, you can vote right from the comfort of your home just by following the steps we will provide next week.

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24 Aug 2018
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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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