Comments for TRS 2021 Sunset Review

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is up for Sunset Review next legislative session. Sunset Review is a legislative process that examines the needs for an agency to exist, but in more practical ways it serves as a review to examine an agency’s performance and challenges and make recommendations for any changes. The Sunset Advisory Commission takes public comment on the review.

Texas AFT submitted the following comments on TRS:

Texas AFT and its affiliated local unions propose the following suggestions to improve the agency’s operations and services. Texas AFT has surveyed and met with a number of our active and retired members to accumulate this list of concerns and recommendations.

One very common critique voiced by many of our members are the excessively long wait times retirees experience when contacting TRS. Additionally, retirees have reported excessively long waits when requesting documents to be mailed to them, including pension summaries which are essential for retirees applying for Social Security. Texas AFT believes these problems can be solved by hiring more staff to monitor the phones and to tend to the mail requests made by the retirees so that requests could be made in a more timely manner. Also, the agency could make sure to properly schedule staff to correspond with times when more calls are made (the day after a holiday, for example).

Another complaint is the lack of trust in and clarity about the information provided to retirees. Retirees have reported numerous occasions when they received different responses to the same question from different TRS staff members. In many cases, TRS staff are unable to adequately answer retirees’ questions and provide vague or unclear answers. A lack of clarity and trust has resulted in many retirees feeling helpless when dealing with TRS. Texas AFT believes this issue can be resolved by TRS employing more qualified personal and requiring their employees to familiarize themselves with the information pertinent to retirees.

Retirees have also complained about difficulty submitting their feedback to the TRS. Retirees are presented with a survey after they make a call to TRS. While this does provide retirees with the opportunity to comment on the call itself, it does not allow them to follow up. For example, if a retiree requests information to be mailed to them, there is no follow up survey for the retiree to comment on whether the information was mailed to them in a timely manner. Texas AFT believes this can be solved by TRS simply sending follow-up surveys to guarantee that retirees’ feedback is properly recorded.

Overwhelmingly, the major concern among active members is the stagnant state share of active employee health insurance, resulting in crippling monthly premium costs. Among retired members, their major concern is the lack of cost-of-living adjustment built into the pension formula, which leaves many retirees in a struggle to meet basic living needs.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Sunset review of TRS. As the commission moves forward with its review, we are hopeful that among its recommendations to the legislature will be a much needed cost-of-living adjustment for retirees along with increased state funding to alleviate the high cost of health insurance for active employees.