Tag Archives: social security

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 11, 2019

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been tracking the latest election-related announcements and news for Teach the Vote. This week, read about recent news of planned departures from the State Board of Education next year, plus a look at the election coming up on Nov. 5. Check out our latest election roundup here. Also, be sure to follow our Teach the Vote blog next week when we’ll posting everything you need to know about voting in the constitutional amendment election.


We have been reporting on the special committees formed this year to examine issues related to school safety and preventing mass violence. A series of meetings are planned around the state during the interim to hear testimony from experts and the public and generate recommendations for the Texas Legislature to address in 2021. One such committee, the Texas House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met Thursday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Farmer’s Branch.

The 13-member committee was formed earlier this year after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa. The committee levied criticism at several major tech companies Thursday for failing to work with law enforcement in a timely and efficient manner in order to stop potential threats of mass violence. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft were invited to testify, but only Facebook sent a representative. Lawmakers pressed Facebook over how quickly it is able to respond to requests for information from law enforcement, and were frustrated by the company’s inability to give a specific response. You can read a full report on Thursday’s meeting courtesy of the Dallas Morning News. The House committee is scheduled to meet again next Thursday in Odessa.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is continuing its work in Washington, DC, spearheaded by our longtime federal lobbyist, David Pore, to advocate for Social Security reform that will help Texas educators earn fair and predictable retirement benefits. In this Congress, two bills have been filed to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces the Social Security benefits earned by many ATPE members and other public employees. Pore spoke about the bills earlier this week during a panel presentation on advocacy moderated by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell as part of the annual meeting of the national Coalition of Independent Educator Associations.

As we first reported on Teach the Vote back in July, Rep. Kevin Brady (R–The Woodlands, Texas) has filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act” (ETPSA), which is an updated version of similar legislation he previously filed in an attempt to fix the WEP. Rep. Richard Neal (D–Springfield, Mass.) followed suit at the end of September, filing H.R. 4540, the “Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act” (PSPFA). Both bills would replace the WEP with a more predictable, proportional formula for calculating Social Security benefit payments of future retirees, and provide a monthly stipend for those workers over the age of 60 who are already retired and eligible for Social Security.

This week, ATPE issued a press release in support of both bills and urged Congress to take action on the issue. It is unclear if or when the WEP legislation might be heard this year, particularly in light of the congressional focus having shifted recently and almost exclusively toward the prospect of impeachment proceedings. Still, ATPE is thankful for the bipartisan effort being made to address the WEP. We especially appreciate the longtime work of both Congressmen Neal and Brady on this front, and their willingness to involve stakeholders like ATPE in the development of the bills. Congressman Neal chairs the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means in which the bills would be heard, while Congressman Brady is the ranking member on the committee and its former chair.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on our federal lobbying efforts. As a reminder, ATPE members can also use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to call or write to their representatives in Washington asking for their support of the ETPSA and PSPFA. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)


This week, the ATPE lobby team continued its “New School Year, New Laws” blog series with a report on how the laws enacted during the 86th Texas legislative session will impact educators’ pension and benefits. Chief among the changes enacted this year was Senate Bill 12, which will make the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) actuarially sound and allowed for the issuance of a 13th check to retirees last month. Check out the latest blog post in the series by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and watch for another installment on Monday.

Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a new “HB 3 in 30” video on the Blended Learning Grant Program. TEA’s ongoing video series is intended to make this year’s omnibus school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, more digestible by breaking out key provisions and explaining them in 30 minutes or less. Visit TEA’s HB 3 in 30 video website to watch the newest video and access others in the series.

Also related to HB 3, the commissioner of education has proposed new administrative rules to implement the new “Do Not Hire Registry” required by the bill. Public comments on the proposed rule are being accepted now through Oct. 21. Learn more about the rule and how to submit your comments here.


In case you missed it earlier this week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided a comprehensive summary of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meeting held Oct. 4, 2019. One of the most interesting discussions at the meeting was about what should constitute “good cause” for educators to abandon their contracts. The board opted to defer taking any action last week to change the criteria for SBEC sanctions in those instances, but you can expect the board members to have continuing discussions on this topic in the coming months. Read more about this and all the other matters discussed by SBEC last week in this blog post.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 26, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2019.” The ETPSA aims to address unfair reductions to the Social Security benefits for many educators and other public employees under what is known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

While there are many similarities between this WEP replacement bill and a previous version of the ETPSA filed by Brady in the last congress, H.R. 3934 would produce a higher benefit payment for the majority of retirees, including those future retirees who are over the age of 20. For more details on the newly filed bill, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting to discuss several important items, including the adoption of changes to allow for the implementation of the EdTPA portfolio assessment pilot for teacher certification. The board is also discussing pending rule changes resulting from bills passed by the 86th Legislature, such as the repeal of the Master Teacher certificates within HB 3. Check the Teach the Vote blog later this weekend for a more detailed summary of the meeting by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


ELECTION UPDATE: November is right around the corner. Are you registered and ready to vote? This week the Secretary of State revealed the ballot order for constitutional amendments that voters will consider in November 2019, including one that pertains to education funding. Learn more about the proposed amendment, along with updates on campaign announcements for the 2020 primary elections in this new election update post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


In Washington, DC, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on school safety on Thursday, July 25, 2019. The specific focus of yesterday’s hearing was on examining state and federal recommendations for enhancing school safety against targeted violence. The committee heard from four invited witnesses: Max Schachter and Tom Hoyer, who are both parents of children killed in the Parkland School shooting; Bob Gualtieri, Sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida; and Deborah Temkin, PH.D., Senior Program Area Director, Education Child Trends. Mr. Hoyer identified three areas where policymakers can impact school safety, particularly with regard to school shootings: securing the school campus, improving mental health screening and support programs, and supporting responsible firearms ownership. Committee members focused their questions and attention on the first two issues. Archived video of the hearing and the testimony of the individual witnesses can be found at the links above.

Congressman Kevin Brady files WEP replacement bill, version 2.0

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX), the ranking member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2019,” considered a new and improved version of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) replacement bill he filed during the previous congressional session.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady

The new version of the bill keeps many of the same provisions in place as its predecessor. For example, the new Public Servants Fairness formula (PSF) proposed in the bill would increase the overall amount in Social Security checks received by most future retired Texas teachers who would otherwise be subject to the WEP under current law. H.R. 3934 also maintains the previous legislation’s provision granting a $100 per month rebate to current retirees whose Social Security benefits are reduced by the WEP.

The primary change between the new version of the bill and the last is a greatly expanded hold harmless period. Under the new legislation, anyone over the age of 20 but not yet eligible for Social Security before the year 2022 would get the higher of the benefit amount provided by either the old WEP formula or the new PSF formula. For the vast majority of affected retirees, the new formula would produce a higher benefit payment except for a few current or future educators over the age of 20 who could otherwise see a slight reduction under the new formula; for the educators who fall into that relatively small category, Brady’s bill would hold them harmless, ensuring that their benefit will be no less than they would otherwise receive under current law.

H.R. 6933 / H.R. 3934 Comparison Chart

With 18 months left for the current congress to pass the bill, ATPE is hopeful that the time for WEP reform may finally be at hand. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this legislation.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 21, 2019

From Austin to Washington, D.C., here’s a look at the latest advocacy news from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Last week, ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand, Vice President Tonja Gray, Executive Director Shannon Holmes, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, and ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist David Pore met with members of the Texas congressional delegation at the U.S. Capitol.

Discussions focused on public education priorities at the federal level, including funding and the repeal of Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The group also visited with officials at the U.S. Department of Education.

For a full recap of the Washington trip, check out this blog post by Exter.


All bills passed by the Texas legislature are subject to the governor’s veto pen, and Sunday, June 16, 2019, marked the end of the period in which the governor may exercise this power. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed three education bills that had been finally passed by the 86th Legislature when it adjourned sine die last month.

This year’s vetoed bills included House Bill (HB) 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), which would have required charter schools to give students Memorial Day off as school districts are currently required to do, yet the bill exempted districts of innovation (DOI). Gov. Abbott explained in his veto message that the bill would have exempted up to 859 school districts, and suggested the legislature draft more targeted legislation in the future.

The governor also vetoed HB 455 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would have required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. Despite praising the bill’s good intentions, the governor called HB 455 “bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.”

Additionally, Gov. Abbott vetoed HB 3511 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would have created a “Commission on Texas Workforce of the Future.” The governor called the bill redundant and duplicative of work being done by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, which involves the Texas Workforce Commission, TEA, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

Incidentally, the Texas governor has “line-item” veto authority over the budget, and governors have often exercised this power to strike the funding from programs of which they disapprove. Gov. Abbott raised eyebrows this year by declining to veto any lines from the state budget, allowing all of the provisions of HB 1 to go into effect without opposition.

For a complete look at the education bills that passed this session, be sure to check out our 86th Legislative Session Highlights here on Teach the Vote penned by the ATPE staff lobbyists who worked on these and hundreds of other bills throughout the 140-day session.


 

ATPE goes to Washington

Most education policy happens at the state level, but there are a few issues that are important to educators and  students that are decided by officials in Washington. That is why ATPE maintains a federal lobby presence. While the main ATPE lobby team works year-round here in Texas, lobbyist David Pore also represents our organization in Washington, DC to ensure that ATPE members have the best representation at all levels of government.

ATPE’s Tonja Gray, Monty Exter, and Byron Hildebrand at the U.S. Capitol

In addition to David’s work year-round on behalf of ATPE members, the association also sends a delegation up to Washington at least once a year to promote our federal priorities. This year ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand, Vice President Tonja Gray, Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter made the journey during the week of June 10, 2019.

While in DC, the ATPE group met with key members of the Texas congressional delegation, as well as committee staff and officials with the US Department of Education. We discussed a handful of topics important to ATPE members including our support for the repeal of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) that reduce many educators’ Social Security benefits; the need for increased Title I and Title II funding; and our opposition to federal voucher programs.

ATPE meeting with Rep. Kevin Brady’s staff in Washington, DC

ATPE has been working with Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), former chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, on legislation to repeal and replace the WEP. Now the ranking member of the committee, Brady is working with the current committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), to reintroduce the bipartisan bill during the current congress.

In addition to meeting with Rep. Brady and his staff, ATPE met with Chairman Neal’s committee staff and with Rep. Jodey Arrington (R–Texas) who represents the Lubbock area and sits on the Social Security Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee. ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray is a constituent of Arrington, who has become a real champion for WEP reform in Congress. We rounded out our meetings with members of the Texas delegation on the Ways and Means Committee with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D–Texas), who represents the greater Austin area.

Rep. Jodey Arrington with ATPE’s Tonja Gray in Washington, DC

Texas also has three new members of Congress now serving on the Education Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. They are Reps. Joaquin Castro (D–Texas) from the San Antonio area, Ron Wright (R-Texas) from Arlington, and Van Taylor (R-Texas) out of Plano. We spoke to each of these members about the importance of maintaining educator preparation funding in Title II as a part of the pending reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, as well as increasing or at least maintaining formula funding for Title I. As a Title I funded interventionist, Tonja Gray was able to put a personal touch on ATPE’s message.

ATPE’s Byron Hildebrand and Tonja Gray with Rep. Henry Cuellar in Washington, DC

Along with expressing support for funding, we also spoke to each of these members of the Texas delegation about ATPE’s staunch opposition to federal voucher legislation. If the House were to take up any of the Senate’s voucher bills, such a measure would likely be heard in the Education Subcommittee.

ATPE meetings with U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz were also productive. Sen. Cornyn’s staff ensured ATPE not only that Title I and II funding are likely to be maintained or increased, but also that there would be no attempts in the current budget cycle to block grant Title I funding. ATPE opposes block granting Title I funding because it would likely result in the dilution of Title I dollars currently delivered through a formula to the campuses with the highest concentrations of disadvantaged students (those eligible for free and reduced lunch).

Our conversation with Sen. Cruz focused largely on the WEP legislation. Sen. Cruz carried the Senate companion to the Brady bill during the last congress and is planning to pick up the Brady/Neal bill again as soon as it is refiled in the House. The senator is currently seeking a Democratic co-sponsor to ensure that the bill has bipartisan authorship in both chambers.

Altogether, ATPE’s 2019 trip to the nation’s capital was very productive and yielded excellent news. As developments continue on ATPE’s federal priorities, we will report those updates here on Teach the Vote.

Here’s how TRS legislation ended up in the 86th legislative session

As the 86th legislative session came to a close yesterday, there were some significant changes made to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that warrant a closer look.

TRS Pension Reform

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston), sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R – League City), was passed 31:0 in the Senate and 145:1 in the House on the last day to pass bills. The bill will immediately reduce the funding window on the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension from over 90 years to pay off the unfunded liability to under 30 years. Reducing the time frame to less than 30 years also allowed the legislature to provide current retirees with an additional pension payment during the current fiscal year. The 13th check, as the supplemental payment is often called, will be the amount of the retiree’s regular monthly annuity payment up to a maximum amount of $2,000.

ATPE was strongly in support of shoring up the TRS pension fund as it will ensure that the primary retirement income for many Texas educators will be viable for decades to come. The passage of SB 12 also saves the state and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in interest on the pension fund’s liabilities, and it puts the TRS fund in a position for policymakers to begin considering a permanent cost of living adjustment for retired educators as early as the next legislative session in 2021.

SB 12 calls for the state’s contribution to immediately increase from 6.8% to 7.5% in the 2020 fiscal year, which begins on Sept. 1, 2019. The state contribution rate will then continue to increase over time until the rate reaches 8.25% in 2024. School districts not paying into Social Security currently contribute 1.5% to the pension fund. Beginning in the 2019-20, all school districts will contribute toward TRS pensions with the district rate increasing by a tenth of a percent each year beginning in the 2021 fiscal year, until the district rate reaches 2% in 2025.  Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at their existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years. Employee contributions will increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

Aside from injecting more money into the TRS pension fund, SB 12 contains a few additional provisions that are worth noting. For one, the bill maintains a provision that ensures that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. It is worth noting, however, that any future legislature could vote to change this. SB 12 also includes a change for the handful of school districts that currently pay into Social Security on behalf of their employees. As noted above, those districts that opt to make Social Security contributions will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS, which Rep. Greg Bonnen said would add about $20 million per year to the fund. Only institutions of higher education will now be exempt from participating in contributing into the TRS pension fund for their covered employees.

Here is a summary of the details provided by TRS staff on how the final adopted version of SB 12 is funded over time:

 

TRS Healthcare

ATPE hoped that the conference committees for SB 12 and House Bill 3, the omnibus school finance bill that also passed, would find better ways to help active and retired teachers deal with the rising costs of their healthcare. There were internal discussions about increasing the state share of active employee health insurance costs. Currently, the state pays $75 per month toward premiums and requires school districts to pay a minimum of $150 per month on behalf of their staff. Employees cover the rest of the cost of their health insurance premiums. SB 12 significantly increases the state’s share of contributions going into the TRS pension system, and the final version of HB 3 does require districts to spend additional dollars on employee compensation (which could include increasing the district’s share of health insurance costs). Despite these improvements, neither bill addressed the inadequacies of the state’s share of active employee premiums in the end.

State lawmakers did make good on their pre-session promises not to raise TRS-Care rates for retiree health insurance. The state budget in House Bill 1 includes $230 million in supplemental funding to cover the projected shortfall in the TRS-Care trust fund. State leaders pushed TRS not to raise rates last fall when it became apparent that the amount of the shortfall for the upcoming biennium was going to be less than originally projected. The savings were largely due a combination of successful TRS contract negotiations and favorable provisions of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act taking effect. Unfortunately, barring a substantial change in the healthcare landscape, the projected shortfall for the 2022-2023 biennium is much larger than what lawmakers had to deal with this session to address the shortfall expected for the next two years.

Congressman Kevin Brady files WEP replacement bill

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) who chairs the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, along with Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-MA), has introduced H.R. 6933 to amend Title II of the Social Security Act. The bill would replace the windfall elimination provision (WEP) with a formula equalizing benefits for certain individuals with non-covered employment.

Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX)

ATPE has worked closely with Chairman Brady to bring forward a bill that addresses the inequities in the current law, which stem from the arbitrary formula known as the windfall elimination provision. The goal for both ATPE and Chairman Brady is to put in place a formula that can both pass Congress and get more money on average into the pockets of retirees by treating them more fairly than they are treated under current law.

Stay tuned to TTV for a deeper dive on the bill as well as updates as it moves through the legislative process.

ATPE meets with lawmakers, congressional staff in Washington

ATPE 2017-18 State President Carl Garner and State Vice President Byron Hildebrand at the U.S. Capitol, June 11, 2018

Carl Garner, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Jennifer Mitchell Canaday, and Byron Hildebrand in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018

A group of ATPE state leaders and lobbyists were in the nation’s capital this week to advocate for pro-public education legislation. ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, and Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday joined ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist David Pore for meetings with our Texas congressional delegation on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Our visiting ATPE group held numerous productive meetings, including visits to the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Representatives Kevin Brady, Beto O’Rourke, Henry Cuellar, Pete Olson, John Carter, Lloyd Doggett, Will Hurd, Roger Williams, and Jeb Hensarling.

Byron Hildebrand, Carl Garner, Rep. Kevin Brady, and Jennifer Mitchell Canaday at the U.S. Capitol, June 12, 2018

The bulk of ATPE’s discussions with our congressional delegation focused on the need to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that reduces Social Security benefits for many educators and other public servants. Rep. Brady, who chairs the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, has been leading an effort to replace the WEP with a different formula that will provide Texas educators with Social Security benefits that are calculated in a more transparent, equitable, and predictable manner. Chairman Brady outlined his vision for a new plan to replace the WEP in a guest post for Teach the Vote back in November. ATPE’s team also visited this week with the staff of the Ways and Means Committee who are working on that new WEP legislation that is expected to be filed soon.

Hildebrand, Garner, Claire Sanderson from Sen. John Cornyn’s office, and ATPE contract lobbyist David Pore in Washington, DC, June 12, 2018

Other topics of discussion during this week’s meeting included school safety, maintaining funding for teacher preparation programs under Title II of the Higher Education Act, and preventing federal vouchers that would send public tax dollars to unregulated private schools. ATPE recently lobbied our congressional leaders to oppose an attempted amendment to a national defense bill that would have created an Education Savings Account voucher for students from military families. ATPE joined a number of military groups in opposing the amendment, which was recently ruled out of order and prevented from being added to the bill.

Hildebrand and Garner at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley, June 11, 2018

During the trip to Washington, ATPE’s representatives also visited area museums, enjoyed a tour of the U.S. Capitol, and spent a special evening at the White House’s Truman Bowling Alley.

Carl Garner with Rep. Pete Olson in his Washington, DC office, June 13, 2018

 

 

Byron Hildebrand with his congressman, Rep. Henry Cuellar, June 13, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senate State Affairs Committee discusses future of TRS pension fund

The Senate State Affairs Committee met in Austin this week to discuss interim charges about the health of various state and municipal pension systems, including the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas. The committee heard invited testimony from the staff and members of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB), as well as the heads of several pension systems, including TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie.

Some of the more general discussion included senators, including Sen. Charles Schwertner in particular, making the case that defined benefit pension systems are somehow inherently flawed and should be scrapped and replaced with 401(k)-style defined contribution systems. This now tired pitch, whose real aim is to line the pockets of private money managers, has been soundly refuted on many fronts, particularly as it applies to TRS. First 401(k)s have proven to be not so wonderful retirement vehicles. For the average American population which relies on them for the bulk of their retirement planning, these investment vehicles have proven to be a tool that generally leads to a woefully underfunded retirement account that is highly sensitive to market volatility and has left many in bad positions with regard to their retirement security. Second, 401(k)s were never meant to stand alone. They were really meant to be a supplement to a more traditional pension system, but even as that has gone by the wayside for many, they are still intended to be on top of Social Security benefits. However, most Texas educators will not receive full Social Security benefits because neither the educator nor the state is paying into Social Security on their behalf. This leads to the final falsehood promulgated by retirement privatizers, that defined benefit pension plans simply cost too much. The truth is Texas has been getting by on the cheap for decades.

Retirement experts will tell you that you should be putting away around 25 percent of your pre-retirement income for use in retirement. Half of that amount, 12.5 percent, is normally covered by contributions to Social Security. Any reasonably good private employer will put up a match of 4 percent, or better, toward an employee’s individual retirement account, in addition to paying the required 6.25 percent employer’s share of Social Security. This means that these private employers are on the hook for a little more than a 10 percent toward their employee’s retirement. Likewise, their employees must also put the required 6.25 percent into Social Security and typically an additional 4 percent or more into their own retirement accounts to access the employer’s match. For years the state of Texas only contributed 6 percent, the constitutional minimum, into the TRS pension system. Thanks in large part to the work of ATPE the state bumped that contribution up to 6.8 percent a few sessions ago. However, at only 0.55 percent above what the state would otherwise have to pay into Social Security, Texas still contributes less than half of what the next lowest state not paying into Social Security pays towards it educators’ retirements. Most Texas teachers are themselves contributing 7.7 percent, or just 1.45 percent above what they would otherwise be paying toward Social Security, into their pension system. When you add in the 1.5 percent districts are contributing into the TRS pension plan, the total contribution comes to 16 percent. At 16 percent, contributions into TRS are substantially less than what even average employers and employees are contributing toward retirement, and despite being many educators only source of retirement income, that is only 64 percent of what experts recommend putting away. So far from being “too expensive” as some lawmakers insist, the TRS pension system has been an exceedingly good deal for the state of Texas.

This discussion is of particular importance at this moment because while TRS has been reasonably healthy for a long time and has been on track to be actuarially sound (very healthy) within the next five years, those statistics have been based on TRS’s current assumed rate of return of 8 percent. Based on the advice of the external actuarial firm with which TRS contracts, the TRS board is considering lowering that assumed rate of return. In order to maintain the positive trajectory of the fund, legislators will need to increase the contribution rate going into the fund. Per the discussion above, these increased contributions are long overdue, and had lawmakers increased them previously, the fund would be in a much better place today. Additionally, many retirees wouldn’t have gone more than a decade without a cost of living adjustment. If TRS lowers its assumed rate of return, however, the decision to increase contributions will no longer be a luxury; it will be an imperative. ATPE is advocating for this process to take place gradually over a number of years so that the increased contributions, corresponding to a gradually decreased assumed rate of return on investments, won’t be a shock the system for either the state or educators who will both share the burden of increased contributions.

Whether a gradual approach is taken or a more “one and done” approach is used, as is being advocated by TRS, the important thing is that educators stay fully engaged with their legislators, and in choosing their legislators this election year, so that the health of the pension fund is secured.

Guest Post: It’s Time to Fix the WEP

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas)

By Kevin Brady, Chairman
U.S. House Ways and Means Committee

The Windfall Elimination Provision or “WEP” is unfair. It’s unfair to public servants in Texas and across the nation, including places like California, Massachusetts and Ohio.  I’ve been working to repeal and replace the WEP for a decade. This is something we must do for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

You probably know the history: When Social Security was created in 1935, state and local governments were excluded from participating due to Constitutional concerns.  Later, the law changed to allow state and local governments to offer Social Security to their employees.

As a result, many teachers, police, and firefighters still contribute to these longstanding retirement plans instead of Social Security since these substitute plans are often tailored to their chosen careers.  But many of these public servants also hold second (or third) jobs or have a second career where they’ve paid Social Security taxes. These folks rightfully expect to receive their earned Social Security benefits when they retire.  However, due to the WEP, their Social Security benefits end up being much lower than they were expecting.

Although the WEP may have been well intentioned in the start, today it’s simply unfair. Those affected by the WEP are subject to a different benefit formula than all other workers.  This arbitrary formula is based on a 1980’s one-size-fits-all Washington compromise and ignores a person’s actual work history.  The WEP also makes it harder to plan for retirement since the reduction doesn’t show up on a worker’s Social Security statement. When you are nearing retirement, surprises are never a good thing.

I think we can all agree that our teachers, police, and firefighters deserve better.

Working with my Democratic colleague from Massachusetts, Representative Richard Neal, and teacher, police, firefighter, and retiree groups, we’ve come together on a solution for addressing the WEP based on fairness, equal treatment and personal work histories.

Here’s how it would work.  The new proposal repeals the WEP as it exists today. Instead of only counting Social Security earnings as the current WEP does, we count all earnings of workers. This helps tailor benefits to your real-life work history.  This “proportional approach” calculates Social Security benefits using all earnings and then adjusts this amount based on the percentage of earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes.  This way, two workers with the same average earnings receive a Social Security benefit equal to the same percentage of their Social Security earnings.

Let’s look at an example for two teachers – one from Virginia who paid Social Security taxes on all of her earnings and another from Texas, who paid into a substitute retirement system like TRS but also tutored and paid Social Security taxes on these earnings.  Both teachers had average monthly earnings of $4,000.  The Virginia teacher had all of these earnings counted for Social Security purposes, while the Texas teacher only had $2,285 credited toward her Social Security benefits.

Under today’s law, the Virginia teacher would receive an initial monthly benefit of $1,776 if she claims at her full retirement age. That represents about 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings.  On the other hand, because of the WEP the Texas teacher under today’s laws would only receive a monthly benefit of $800, which represents about 35 percent of pre-retirement Social Security earnings.

Under the new proposed “proportional approach”, the Virginia teacher would still receive a monthly benefit of $1,776.  But the Texas teacher would receive a monthly benefit of $1,015, which represents 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings – or the same percentage as the Virginia teacher.

While the new proportional formula addresses the WEP for future retirees, we cannot leave current retirees behind. Our plan provides Social Security relief to current retirees affected by the WEP by providing special payments to these retirees. That’s only fair.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey met with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017 to discuss fixing the WEP.

Over the years – with the help of groups like the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Retired Teachers Association and Mass Retirees – we have taken important steps toward finally fixing the WEP.  With your help, we will finally ensure equal treatment for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

This is a top priority for me, and we will not rest until we have a solution in law.