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18 Feb
0

Early Voting Begins Today!

Early voting for the Primary Election begins today, February 18! Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) are ready to get out the vote and let their voices be heard this election season!

Many of you may have read our Voter Health Series through our Inside Line e-newsletter a couple of weeks ago. One of the key takeaways from that series is the significance of every single vote in the Primary.

Very few voters make it out during the Primary, but this is when your vote counts the most! Most political races in Texas are determined DURING THE PRIMARY ELECTION, not the November General Election!

It is vital that our members make time during their schedules in the next 10 days (during early voting February 18-28) to get to the polls. Remember, when you vote early, you do NOT have to vote in your precinct. You may vote at any location convenient for you within your county. Review early voting locations in your area here.

Some of you may be wondering why your vote matters so much. You may wonder what your motivation is. TRTA has several reasons to share, all of which ultimately impact your livelihood!

The #1 reason TRTA members need to vote in the Primary is because of the impending funding crisis with TRS-Care. This vital health insurance program is used by nearly 250,000 retirees and their dependents. Saving the program and improving its funding structure is a must! If nothing is done to address the shortfall, TRS-Care premiums could triple!

It is essential that we elect Senators and Representatives that support TRS-Care. In our previous Voter Health Series articles, we discussed several contested and open seats in the Primary election. A large number of our elected officials will be NEW or have less than two years of experience by the time the next legislative session begins in January 2015. This means YOUR Senator or Representative in 2015 may know very little about issues affecting retired school personnel in Texas!

It is important that our members make the effort to discuss TRS with all candidates for political office. If you have not yet decided who you plan to vote for in the Primary or have not discussed TRS with your candidate of choice, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • Which candidate supports a defined benefit plan for all current and future TRS retirees?
  • Which candidate supports providing reasonable, affordable healthcare for TRS retirees?
  • Which candidate has said they will work as your legislator to ensure that the TRS pension fund and TRS–Care health insurance program are preserved and improved?

If you do not know which candidate in your area is the best for TRS retirees and active school employees, contact your fellow TRTA members and ask who they may be voting for and why. We have a great network of retirees with much legislative experience. They are more than happy to share their thoughts on who deserves your vote. Ultimately, it is your decision. TRTA wants you to vote for the candidate you think will best represent your livelihood and then HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE!

Today’s action item for all TRTA members: SCHEDULE A DAY TO VOTE EARLY IN THE PRIMARY ELECTION. If you still need time to determine who you will vote for, make that time today! Contact your candidates’ offices and speak with a staff member about retirement issues. Find your candidates using the Texas Tribune Elections Bracket.

Thank you for being a member of TRTA! Remember, you are a valued member of our organization, and your vote in the Primary Election is also valuable! Use your power and vote! If you are not a member of TRTA and want more information about joining, contact us at 1.800.880.1650.

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13 Feb
0

TRS Board Meets in Corpus Christi, Discusses TRS-Care Funding Crisis

TRS-Care Premiums Could Triple if No Action by Legislature

Yesterday, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) Board of Directors and staff attended the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board retreat in Corpus Christi. The retreat, a three-day board meeting, began with a hearty discussion about TRS-Care and TRS Active-Care, the health insurance plans for TRS retired and active school employees.

Many TRTA members were in attendance and represented such local units as Aransas County RTA, Corpus Christi Area RTA, Falfurrias-Fremont RTA, Kingsville Tri-County RTA, and San Patricio County RTA. Well over 50 TRTA members filled the meeting rooms to overflow capacity and made TRTA’s presence known with their participation. Leroy DeHaven, TRTA District 2 President and a resident of Corpus Christi, shared comments and welcomed the trustees to the city.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie discussed the importance of delving into the issue of health care and reminded guests that it is the goal of the TRS board members and staff to do whatever they can to provide good, accurate information to them as well as to the Texas Legislature.

It was also pointed out that as a matter of Texas statute, TRS cannot lobby. Considering the impending TRS-Care crisis, TRTA members must know that the burden of protecting this benefit falls to us as a professional advocacy organization. We need ALL public education retirees and interested stakeholders to join TRTA and be ready to fight for the TRS-Care program!

The TRS-Care Crisis is Here

TRTA has worked to protect retiree income by partnering with the Legislature to maintain TRS-Care premiums. This was especially important over the last decade, as TRS was unable to provide cost-of-living increases since 2001. While many TRS long-term retirees received a modest increase in their retirement benefits in 2013, not everyone received the raise. Many retirees are still in need, and the raise that was given is simply not enough to cover the increased costs of TRS-Care premiums that may occur as early as September 1, 2015.

How much could those TRS-Care premiums increase? TRS reported yesterday that if the Legislature is unable to correct the funding deficiencies inherent in the TRS-Care program and instead relies on retirees to make up the $1 billion shortfall, premiums could triple over the next two-year period!

That premium hike would force many TRS-Care participants out of the program as it would far exceed their ability cover the costs and still live comfortably.

Please understand that TRS has indicated that TRS-Care premium increases are NOT needed for the current biennium (2014-15). TRTA will have the next legislative session to be active (beginning in 2015) and help resolve this crisis. Yesterday’s discussion was about what MAY happen in a worst case scenario.

Resolving the Crisis, TRS-Care Town Hall Meeting Invites Feedback

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie stated that the resolution to this shortfall is dependent upon the Texas Legislature and legislative action, and that TRS has exhausted its available options for saving the plan money at this time.

TRS is updating its sustainability study on the program and the results are due in June. This will include recommendations from TRS staff such as whether or not premium increases or benefit reductions may be necessary in the future.

As was stated above, TRS answered a TRTA question about what the premiums for retirees may be should the Legislature decide to place the entire burden of the shortfall on retirees, and the result would be devastating. For retirees paying about $350 per month, the premium would rise to about $585 per month and continue to rise.

TRTA believes the Legislature must increase revenues to the program that do not rely upon increases in retiree premiums. TRS retirees do not receive regular pension increases, and the increase provided in 2013 did not apply to ALL retirees. As the cost of living rises and as health care costs increase, retirees are not able to cover the burden of these rising health care costs through increased premiums.

During the Town Hall meeting, TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee emphasized that a health care program is a necessity, as are affordable premiums for both retired and active members. Although TRTA members understand the concept of “shared pain,” solutions must be realistic, as retirees and active employees can only afford so much. He also suggested that TRTA and the active educator groups and perhaps even legislators or their staff members come together during the interim to discuss potential solutions well before legislative session begins in 2015.

TRTA is willing to work with all stakeholders to find viable solutions that provide reasonable, affordable health care for retirees and active school personnel. The crisis is here now and is not going away, and in fact, could only become worse even IF the $1 billion shortfall is paid for in full. Long-term solutions and sustainability are KEY and should be the focus of discussions about TRS-Care. All solutions must be put on the table and vetted.

As was reported by a healthcare actuary during the meeting, the best solution to TRS-Care long-term sustainability is pre-funding the program. Pre-funding a program that has an immediate $1 billion shortfall is nearly impossible; BUT it could be possible if the Legislature made TRS-Care pre-funding a priority at a time when state revenues have been robust and the economic stabilization (rainy day) fund has a sizable reserve. Using a portion of those dollars to pre-fund TRS-Care may be a long shot, but putting it on the table for discussion could help legislators see the long-term benefit of pre-funding a vital program and maintaining it many years in the future.

ALERT—The TRS-Care Crisis is Real and Now is the Time to Respond

As you review this Inside Line message, please think on these next steps and how you can help TRTA protect TRS-Care:

  1. Continue to support TRTA through your membership and help us get the message out to ALL public education retirees that we need their membership too;
  2. Sign up for the TRTA Inside Line and encourage others to sign up for this email news service;
  3. Be ready to VOTE in the upcoming primary election—ask those running for office if they support TRS retirees and the preservation of TRS-Care and the TRS pension fund;
  4. Remember that early primary voting begins on February 18, and be sure to VOTE and ask your friends and family to be involved—your vote in the primary may be the deciding factor in who represents you next session when these issues are discussed;
  5. Understand that the TRS-Care issue is a CRISIS and we must prepare to do all that is necessary to protect the program.

Thank You

Thank you for being a member of TRTA. We need you. TRTA is the leader in retirement benefit protection and improvements. The TRS-Care crisis is no longer distant. It is here now and we need to gather our strength and be ready for the fight. Please, if you value the TRS-Care program as part of your current retirement benefits or if you hope to retire and participate in this health care plan in the future, help us protect the plan by joining TRTA and engaging with us in our association efforts.

We hope you were able to participate in the TRS-Care Town Hall events. TRTA appreciates the efforts made by TRS to offer a variety of ways to ask the questions that are on our minds about health care. We also appreciate the foresight of TRS in updating the TRS-Care sustainability study. It will be a vital tool as TRTA and our friends in the active education and administration communities begin lobbying the Legislature in January.

TRS continues its board meeting in Corpus Christi today and tomorrow, but will move on to other topics. You can still watch today’s broadcast online using the following link: http://trs.mediasite.com/mediasite/Play/e34368f7941146119f0bec75a7163ca81d.

If you are not a member and want to learn more about joining, please contact our Membership Department at 1.800.880.1650.

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11 Feb
0

TRTA Readies for TRS-Care Town Hall Meeting Tomorrow

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) is en route to Corpus Christi today to attend the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees retreat. During the first day of the meeting which begins tomorrow, the TRS Board is hosting a Town Hall event that will allow TRS-Care participants to communicate their questions, concerns and suggestions about the health insurance program.

You may have read about this event last week. The feedback you and other TRS-Care participants provide during the TRS-Care Town Hall meeting will impact the TRS-Care sustainability study presently being conducted by TRS. This study, first conducted in 2012, is being updated for the Texas Legislature. TRS is tasked with finding solutions for maintaining this vital healthcare program and presenting viable solutions to the Legislature before the 84th Legislative Session begins in January 2015.

TRS-Care faces a funding shortfall that could reach or exceed $1 billion by the next legislative session. This crisis MUST be addressed, and your participation in this meeting is vital. TRS will also discuss TRS-ActiveCare for current public school employees during this meeting.

If you have not heard about this event until today, please add it to your calendar and plan to participate! The meeting begins at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow and may be viewed online. See details below!

Attend the Meeting In Person:
The meeting is being held at the Education Service Center, Region 2, Room 3-23, located at 209 N. Water St., Corpus Christi, Texas, 78401 on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. Here is a map of the meeting location: Education Service Center Map.

Watch the Meeting From Home:
For those of you who wish to watch the broadcast from your home computer, you can view the live webcast through the TRS website www.trs.state.tx.us.  The direct link (which will not be active until the meeting begins) is: trs.mediasite.com/mediasite/Play/3072175dfa5c4ab08b2a16333dba377a1d.

As the meeting is being broadcast, you can also send your questions by email using a special feature. This feature will not be available until the meeting has begun, and complete instructions for sending in your email during the live broadcast are available through TRS here: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/global.jsp?&page_id=/about/announcement_townhall_questions.

For those of you who use Twitter, you can even tweet your questions live by submitting them to the TRS Twitter account @TRSofTexas and using the hashtag #TRStownhall. Please be sure to watch the webcast for answers. Although not all questions will be answered due to time constraints, similar questions will be grouped and a thorough answer provided.

Watch the TRTA Facebook Page for Updates:
TRTA will post these same links again next week from our Facebook page. If you have a Facebook account, be sure to like our page today (https://www.facebook.com/pages/TRTA-Texas-Retired-Teachers-Association/126989714019649). TRTA provides frequent updates about issues pertaining to your retirement benefits as well as information about other pension plans across the nation.

Thank You!
We know many of our members are not able to travel to Corpus to participate in the meeting. Several of you have sent us emails this week telling us about your concerns and suggestions. Thank you for your feedback!

Please know that TRTA board members and staff will be present at the meeting to share the information you have provided for us. We have also sent your comments to TRS staff members.

We also want to thank TRS for providing the information included in this update, and for offering a variety of ways for retirees to participate in this vital discussion. The TRS Board is facing a difficult task in dealing with the TRS-Care funding crisis. With your feedback, they can better address an issue that affects more than 200,000 retirees. Please don’t hesitate to use the online features provided TRS during tomorrow’s event!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA. If you are not a member and are interested in becoming one, please contact our Membership Department at 1.800.880.1650.

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