September 14, 2022

 

 

news photo

Tim Lee, TRTA executive director, talks to Wilco education retirees. Katherine Anthony photo

 

Wilco retired educators seek cost-of-living raises

Last raise was in 2013

By KATHERINE ANTHONY

Williamson County retired teachers heard what they wanted to hear Friday — the Texas Retired Teachers Association will fight for a cost-of-living adjustment to their annuities in the 2023 Session of the Texas Legislature.

Tim Lee, TRTA executive director and guest speaker at the September 9 meeting of the Williamson County Retired Teachers Association, didn’t need to remind his audience that retired teachers and other education retirees haven’t had a cost of living adjustment since 2013 — a 3 percent raise, capped at $100 per month, benefitting only those who retired before 2004.

“First and foremost, our message is that more than half of retired school employees in Texas have never had a raise,” Mr. Lee said. “We will work for a meaningful cost of living adjustment for you in 2023.”

Mr. Lee pointed out that in July, the Texas Comptroller’s Office said state lawmakers have an extra $27 billion to spend in the 2023 legislative session.

“That tells us all we need to know,” he said.

TRTA advocates for improved benefits for all education retirees, and is the largest such association in the nation. There are about 450,000 retired teachers and education staff in Texas.

All K-12 public education employees in Texas are required to be members of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, a state agency that manages retirement, health and death benefits for 1.9 million members. TRS collects contributions from employee paychecks to fund its retiree benefits.

Just a handful of Texas school districts also participate in the federal Social Security program.

Mr. Lee said 95 percent of school employees do not pay into Social Security. For most TRS retirees, there is then no annual cost-of-living raise as offered by Social Security. Instead, raises must be approved by the Texas Legislature in a biennial session.

“It’s been 20 years. Do you think that legislators are going to wait only a couple more years before they give another raise?” Mr. Lee said. “Their track record is pretty poor. Sorry. It is. It is terrible. Their track record for providing inflation protection, real inflation protection for our retirees is very bad.”

Mr. Lee said inflation is taking a huge toll on retirees. Since the last cost of living adjustment in 2004, inflation has increased by 52 percent, he said, making a dollar today worth 65 cents compared to a 2004 dollar.

He told the Wilco TRTA members, as he’s telling all chapters statewide, to contact their local legislators to convey how much inflation has impacted retirees.

“We’re breaking that down for you in some really simple ways,” he said. “Since 2004, we’ve seen inflation increase and a loss of buying power. Anything that cost $1 in 2004 costs $1.57 today. I think a legislator can probably understand that.”

Mr. Lee compared TRS benefits to those offered by Social Security.

“How much has Social Security increased the benefits for retirees in just the last year? Last year was one of the largest increases in Social Security benefits in almost 40 years — 5.9 percent.

“Inflation has continued unchecked on retirees so drastically in the last 10 months. Projections are that in January, Social Security will increase benefits for those retirees by nearly 10 percent,” he said.

In urging activism, Mr. Lee told the Wilco TRTA, “I would say at a minimum, you should be trying to accomplish a raise that is similar to what other retirees are receiving under Social Security — no less than 6 percent, maybe as high as 10 percent.”

More information about the Wilco TRTA is available at https://wcrta.org and about the state organization at https://trta.org.