By DAVID A. DÍAZ
With more than a quarter-million retired Texans and their dependents struggling with higher monthly premiums and less coverage through the Teacher Retirement System’s TRS-Care, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Texas Legislature to address the issue.
“My retired local teachers and retired public school employees, who are on a fixed income, are now paying hundreds of dollars more a month (sometimes more) for healthcare services and essential medications,” Canales stated in a letter addressed to the governor. “These Texas teachers and school employees, who have dedicated their lives to service, increasingly have to make the choice to pay their mortgage, buy groceries, or pay for their potentially life-saving medications.”
A called session, commonly referred to as a special session, is so designated because it must be called by the governor. A called or special session may last no more than 30 days, but consecutive special sessions may be called by the governor.
In his letter to Abbott, dated Thursday, March 29, 2018, Canales recalled how last year, the stakes were high for TRS-Care, which was on the edge of disaster for the huge number of Texans who had been promised by politicians that the state government would take care of them in exchange for their public service.
“At the beginning of the 2017 Texas Legislative session, there were widespread fears that the Teacher Retirement System’s TRS-Care, which insured around 270,000 retired retired teachers and retirement public school employees and their dependents, was about to collapse,” the House District 40 lawmaker reminded the governor. “The Texas House led efforts during the regular session to fix the ailing system but the majority of the Senate was reluctant to support our educators.”
In late May 2017, Canales and his fellow colleagues in the House had offered a $500 million increase to help fund TRS-Care, with that amount coming from the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the the Texas Rainy Day Fund, which is estimated to reach $12 billion by 2019 if left untouched. However, the Senate had offered $350 million from the state, but wanted local school districts statewide to provide an additional $134 million.
Canales commended Abbott for seeing “the need for action” and consequently adding TRS-Care to the July 2017 special session call. “Yet, the solution that resulted from that special session was just another temporary and partial fix.”
Canales emphasized to the governor “it is clear to me that we cannot wait for the next regular legislative session, which begins in January of 2019, to create a permanent fix for TRS-Care. I humbly request that you call a special session of the Texas Legislature” to address the needs of such a powerful constituency.
In closing, the state representative asked the governor, “If we don’t support our teachers, what does that mean about the Texas Legislature’s support for students and the overall Texas education system? I look forward to continuing the dialogue with your office, and the possibility of working together to create a Texas education system where we recognize that great schools start with supporting our great Texas teachers.”
“For them, the doubled or tripled premiums have been devastating. Only about 5 percent of Texas education retirees are eligible to receive Social Security income, and there has been no cost-of-living increase for those who retired in 2004 or later.”
Canales explained that the Texas Legislature is already working on ways to deal with helping improve TRS-Care, and said those efforts should take place in a special session as quickly as possible, instead of waiting for solutions to be considered during the regular session in 2019.
Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco.