Retired teachers need permanent cost-of-living changes, survey reveals

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September 19, 2019

Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343

Retired teachers need permanent cost-of-living changes, survey reveals

AUSTIN—A Texas American Federation of Teachers (Texas AFT) and Texas Pension Coalition (TPC) survey reveals that retired employees are great for for 13th check but ultimately want more permanent changes to their pension. Only then will they feel their financial well-being is secure.

The survey results were discussed at a press conference held by Texas AFT this Friday, as the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) held its September board meeting, and a week after the system deposited a one-time bonus check into pensioners’ accounts. This “13th check,” capped at $2,000, comes after 15 years without a cost of living adjustment for TRS pension recipients.

Among the clearest findings in the survey: most retired school employees are using their 13th check to cover basic needs or recover from accumulated debt. Almost three in ten respondents are putting some or all of their bonus check toward paying down credit card debt, while about one quarter are using the funds toward either outstanding medical debt or home repairs. Over 15% of participants indicated they would use the supplemental payment to pay for either prescriptions or doctor visits.

“We asked over 1,000 retired teachers a simple question: how are you going to use your 13th check?” said Texas Pension Coalition coordinator Keegan Shepherd. “The overwhelming majority of responses show that retirees are using this money for basic needs they’ve had to put off for quite some time, or for paying off debt that has accrued taking care of these essential expenses.”

Retired teachers attending the press conference echoed the survey results. “Nobody I know is spending this money on jewelry or a luxurious vacation,” said Cheryl Anderson, chair of the Texas AFT Retirees Plus group. “My former colleagues are using the bonus check to finally go the dentist, take the car into the mechanic, or fix their air conditioning—things that should have been taken care of months ago.”

Texas AFT leaders stress that these survey results show that the 13th check has to be seen as the first step toward lasting changes to TRS pensions. While legislative modifications to TRS earlier in the year allowed the pension system to remain financially sound, they did not enable a permanent bump to pension payments—something the union is pushing for when the Legislature meets again in 2021.

Retired teachers note that part of their financial insecurity comes from the state’s own restrictions for retirement contributions. The overwhelming majority of teachers in Texas are not allowed to make Social Security contributions. Unlike Texas state employees and teachers in most other states, their retirement savings are limited to the defined benefits of their TRS pension. Because of this restriction, retired educators often face stiff penalties for any Social Security benefits they could receive from a spouse or through other jobs they worked before or after teaching.

As shown by the survey, another major source of concern for retired teachers is the cost of their insurance. “Over 70% of our survey respondents use TRS Care, and many of those people were frustrated by their rising insurance costs,” said Shepherd. “When you’re on a fixed income, any changes to health insurance—prescription costs, copays, deductibles—can make a huge impact on household finances.”

While some of these problems require addressing federal regulations, union leaders acknowledge, others can be addressed at the state level. “Many of our retirees’ frustrations with TRS-Care and Social Security provisions can be addressed by providing them a pension that actually meets their needs,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “Pensions that adjust as the cost of living rises, ones that account for restrictions the state itself has set up, are what our educators deserve.”


Texas American Federation of Teachers represents some 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.


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