Featured, from left: Gene Powell of San Antonio, who was raised in Weslaco, the Chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 in Edinburg for the groundbreaking of the $54 million UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. Muñoz is a co-sponsor in 2013 of legislation that created the medical school, which will provide the first two years of medical education in Edinburg.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
More than 365,000 persons who receive their pension, death and survivor benefits from the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will soon get their monthly payments on the last working day of the month instead of the first working day of the following month under legislation by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, which has been signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. “For too long, the state of Texas has generated money off the backs of TRS beneficiaries by unfairly accumulating interest, which did not go to the retirees or their survivors, by delaying for up to three days a month the money owed to them,” said Muñoz. “Beginning this September 1, that process will change for the better, and people will get the money owes them without delay.” Muñoz is the author of House Bill 2168, sponsored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, which was signed into law by the governor on Wednesday, June 17. Eligible retirees, which include those who receive a disability pension, and their beneficiaries will first see the effect of this new law with their September 2015 pension, death or survivor benefits, which will be paid on Wednesday, September 30, rather than Thursday, October 1, the House District 36 lawmaker said. “But beginning with the October payment, people will really see the difference,” Muñoz further illustrated. “The TRS will issue pension and benefit payments on Friday, October 30, which is the last working day of the month, instead of Monday, November 2.” The Texas Retired Teachers Association, which had been following the fate of HB 2168, praised the measure in its update to its membership in early June, noting the unfairness of delaying the payments. “This practice allows the state of Texas to hold hundreds of millions of dollars in owed TRS annuity payments several days past the month they are owed,” the TRTA stated. “While this budgeting trick may have helped the state, it does not put the hard-earned annuity dollars in the hands of retirees in the same month they are owed.” With the passage of HB 2168, “retirees are one step closer to being treated like all other state retirees. Their annuity checks will be deposited on the last working day of the month they are owed. This is great news for TRS retirees as their payments will come on time and will not be delayed by weekends or holidays,” the TRTA statement added. The Texas Retired Teacher Association is the largest association in the nation for retired teachers with a history of active involvement in the well-being of their communities, according to its website, http://www.trta.org. In 2016, there will be five months where in the past, TRS would have waited three days before issuing the monthly payments. But the new law will get that money to the retirees and beneficiaries sooner.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, greets constituents at the Boggus Ford Events Center in Pharr during the Hidalgo County Democratic Party 2014 statewide and regional elections returns festivities on Tuesday, November 4.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
On Friday, February 27, a bipartisan plan to fully fund TRS-Care, which is the health insurance program for retired public school employees of Texas, including retired classroom teachers, was praised by Canales, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya. The three men said they will vote for the measure developed by the House Committee on Appropriations, of which Muñoz and Longoria are members, when the funding legislation hits the House floor as part of the state budget later this spring. “The health insurance program for more than a quarter-million Texans and their dependents was in danger of running out of money, which could have forced insurance premiums to go up or benefits to be reduced, which are unacceptable options,” said Canales. “Through this action, we can protect this vital program for the next two years, giving the Legislature time to develop a long-term strategy to make sure we can keep health insurance protections affordable for retired teachers now and in the future.” TRS-Care is a self-funded retiree group health benefits program administered by the Teacher Retirement System. TRS retirees who are not eligible for the Employee Retirement System (ERS), University of Texas System or Texas A&M System health benefit coverage may be eligible for TRS-Care. “TRS-Care is one of the benefits that have been earned, through years of public service to Texas, by the dedicated professionals who educate millions of students and help ensure the future of all of us,” said Muñoz. “The House Committee on Appropriations, through the leadership of our chairman, Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton), has made keeping this fund solvent one of our top priorities.” As of December of 2014 TRS-Care had approximately 250,949 participants (retirees and their spouses and dependents) in Texas. For Hidalgo County, as of December 2014, TRS-Care covered approximately 9,219 participants, according to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. “TRS is one of our state’s greatest programs, offering support to the thousands of retired teachers in Texas. I am very pleased that Chairman Otto and my fellow Appropriation Committee and House colleagues support the continual funding of TRS,” said Longoria. “We all know a hard working teacher or retiree who has made a difference in our life and it is imperative that we continue to support and protect their right to TRS.” Since 95 percent of Texas’ retired school employees do not receive Social Security benefits, securing this funding will prevent any drastic change in access to affordable health care to retired public school employees, House leaders emphasized. In addition to Muñoz and Longoria, all other House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee played key roles in protecting TRS-Care.