Teachers union celebrates ‘13th Check’ for retirees, but pushes for permanent pension increases 

September 13, 2019

Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343

(Watch the press conference for Cy Fair AFT, Northeast Houston AFT, Aldine AFT and Fort Bend AFT)

(Watch the San Antonio Alliance Press Conference)

Teachers union celebrates ‘13th Check’ for retirees, but pushes for permanent pension increases 

This week the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) began depositing supplemental “13th check” payments into hundreds of thousands of retired school employees’ bank accounts after the Legislature approved the pension payment last session.

“While the 13th check is like rain on parched earth for retirees—most of whom haven’t seen a pension increase in almost 15 years—it’s still just provides temporary relief,” said Zeph Capo, Texas American Federation of Teachers president. “Now our school employee members are readying for another big push to get what’s really needed and deserved, a permanent cost-of-living increase that needs to be authorized by the Legislature next session.”

During its most recent session, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 12 to provide retired school employees the one-time supplemental payment of up to $2,000. The maximum amount for the 13th check is slightly less than what the average retired teacher lives off of each month from their pension. SB 12 also made the pension fund actuarially sound by increasing contributions to the pension fund from the state, school districts and school employees.

“While the pension fund always was in a financially stable position, it needed action from the Legislature to get its funding level to a point where lawmakers can actually authorize a cost-of-living increase,” Capo said.

“When the cost of living in an area goes up even 1 or 2 percent, it can have disastrous effects for people on fixed or tight incomes,” said Cheryl Anderson, chair of the Texas AFT Retiree Committee.

Anderson, who leads the Texas AFT activist members known as Retiree Plus, said leaders for retiree chapters of Texas AFT have observed firsthand how stagnant pensions have negatively impacted the well-being of their former colleagues—noting that some former educators have reached a financial breaking point despite numerous cost-cutting measures. The problem was exacerbated when the Legislature in 2017 failed to fully fund retiree health care—resulting in skyrocketing deductibles, higher treatment payments and increased premium costs.

Retired school employees aren’t willing to wait until the 87th Session of the Texas Legislature convenes in January 2021 to figure out whether or not they have allies in the fight for a cost of living adjustment. Instead, Texas AFT is directly asking candidates whether they support pension improvements. Their answers to this and other educational policy questions will help determine whether local union chapters or the statewide federation decides to endorse any political hopefuls.

“The release of the 13th check is a perfect time to both thank legislators for stepping up to provide this temporary relief, while also letting them know that we expect them to keep their commitment to retired teachers by providing a real pension increase when they meet again next session,” Capo said.

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.