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Tim said many TRTA members have been working to have the WEP repealed for many years and want to know why the process is taking so long.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