ATPE urges state lawmakers to provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for TRS retirees
School Finance Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature Congress | Federal COVID-19 Educator Compensation | Benefits
Date Posted: 5/04/2022 | Author: Mark Wiggins
The Senate Finance Committee met Wednesday, May 4, 2022, to discuss some of its interim charges, including monitoring the implementation of recent pension reforms. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified on the interim charge directing the Senate committee to monitor the implementation of recent legislation relating to the Teacher Retirement Systems (TRS) of Texas. Exter reiterated ATPE’s longtime advocacy for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retired educators, who have seen the value of their benefits decline significantly over the past decade.
Wednesday’s hearing came a week after state officials’ announcement that $435 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds would be used to offset rising healthcare premiums affecting active educators enrolled in TRS-ActiveCare. Several stakeholder organizations called upon legislators to implement a COLA for public retirees. Exter pointed out that legislators have funding available through state general revenue and in the TRS pension fund to pass a COLA immediately.
“Now is the time,” Exter testified, highlighting collaboration between legislators and stakeholders dating back several sessions that has laid the groundwork for passing a COLA during the 2023 legislative session. Exter urged legislators that the conversation should be framed as “how” and not “whether” to pass a COLA.
The Texas Legislature approved a one-time supplemental payment or “13th check” for retired educators in 2021. In Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) asked whether continuing to provide a “13th check” to retirees every other year would offer more benefit than a COLA, and she voiced concern over the potential for any “automatic COLA” legislation to negatively affect the health of the TRS pension fund.
Exter pointed out that the net difference in increased payments between a 13th check and a COLA would be minimal and that a COLA would be more beneficial over time. Furthermore, Exter suggested that educators are sensitive to the financial viability of the TRS pension fund and offered to assist legislators in exploring options that would remove political barriers to passing an annual COLA while retaining guardrails to preserve the fund during times of volatility.
Committees are expected to compile a report by the end of the year that includes findings and recommendations on each interim charge. The reports will be submitted to the incoming legislature in January 2023 and often serve as the basis for priority legislation.
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