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!