December 10, 2021: TRS report and 13th check status; DOJ sues Texas over redistricting; Free service can reduce medical bills
Publish Date: December 10, 2021 11:11 am Author: Texas AFT
TRS board hears status on 13th check, fund performance, new agency office
This week the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees convened for its quarterly meeting to discuss the status of the 13th check for retired teachers, the agency’s transition to a new office, the opening of the first TRS regional office in El Paso, and the financial health of the TRS pension fund.
In lieu of a much-needed cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers, the Legislature did vote to provide TRS retirees with a one-time supplemental benefit check, commonly referred to as a “13th check.” TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie told the board that retirees should receive the 13th check in mid to late January. This week, the agency began notifying relevant retirees who will be receiving the check.
After the board voted unanimously at its September meeting to purchase a new headquarters outside of downtown Austin, TRS staff reported to the board that they are in the late stages of negotiating the purchase. TRS plans to transition selected divisions to the new facility starting in the summer of 2023. According to TRS’s calculations, the move is estimated to save the agency up to $15 million over the next 20 years.
The board also discussed the opening of its first regional office in El Paso. TRS said the purpose of that office is to better serve members who live hours away from Austin and require in-person assistance from TRS staff. Opening similar TRS regional offices in other areas across the state will be considered if the El Paso office proves successful. The office is on schedule to begin serving members by the end of Spring 2022.
TRS staff reported recent difficulties hiring and retaining staff members. TRS Chief Operations and Administrative Officer Andrew Roth cited two commonly reported reasons for staff departures: wages and lifestyle. TRS has had difficulty offering competitive salaries to its staff in comparison to private-sector employers in the Austin area. Regarding employee lifestyle, TRS has been conducting internal research to see which staff positions could effectively work from home to provide a more flexible working environment for employees. While TRS has shown general improvement in its ability to respond to member complaints and inquiries over the past few months, the shrinking staff at TRS, coupled with the sheer number of teacher retirements the agency is currently handling, has created some cause for concern for the agency.
Bouncing back after a difficult few quarters at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TRS pension fund has largely recovered. The positive trends the pension saw as the economy began to recover earlier this year have slowed down, but TRS investment staff stated this isn’t a cause for concern. TRS has testified repeatedly in front of the Legislature that the agency could afford a cost-of-living adjustment for TRS members, but the Legislature has not taken action on this issue. Some lawmakers have indicated publicly that the 2023 session would be their preferred time to propose an increase.
DOJ sues Texas over new gerrymandered district lines
On Monday, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas over the state’s recently redrawn congressional district maps pushed by GOP leadership and passed roughly on party-line votes.
The key argument behind President Joe Biden’s DOJ lawsuit is that Texas has violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or language.
Following the completion of the 2020 Census, Texas gained two additional congressional seats ahead of the 2022 elections. This increases its congressional delegation from 36 representatives to 38, and these two additional seats have majority-white voting populations, despite most population growth coming from Texans of color.
The Department of Justice stated the new district lines that include Harris County have “failed to draw a seat encompassing the growing Latino electorate.” Prior to 2013, states with a history of racial gerrymandering would be required by the Voting Rights Act to seek approval from the federal government regarding new district lines—what was known as “preclearance.” The 2013 Supreme Court ruling Shelby County v. Holder removed the preclearance requirement.
When announcing the lawsuit Monday, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requested that Congress restore the Justice Department’s preclearance authority so that its efforts to combat Voting Rights Act violations would yield more accountability.
Help elect educators and union members to school boards to promote higher pay, better working conditions
When we start electing educators, we start achieving higher pay for our school employees.
Join Houston Federation of Teachers, Houston Educational Support Personnel, and Texas AFT for a quick phone bank to help elect pro-public educator candidates to the Houston ISD school board. Let’s make sure the HISD school board is made up of educators and former AFT members! Join via Zoom for a short 45-minute phone bank tonight at 6 p.m. to help us get out the vote for Saturday’s election. RSVP online.
Pol. Ad. paid for by Texas AFT COPE
Get help reducing medical charges, grants to pay hospitalization bills
The Union Plus Medical Bill Negotiating Service by Health Advocate provides union members with FREE assistance negotiating large out-of-pocket medical bills, as well as bill reductions with physicians, hospitals, and other medical providers. The service negotiates with medical providers on the union member’s behalf to lower costs and establish payment plans.