A group of local retired educators joined more than 1,000 of their peers at the State Capitol this week to ask Texas lawmakers to protect their retirement benefits and provide them with some financial relief.

About 47 retired educators from the greater Killeen-Fort Hood area participated in a rally Thursday in Austin. The event was organized by the Texas Retired Teachers Association. Participants were able to sit in on the current legislative session, as well as meet with state lawmakers to encourage them to support proposed legislation to help shore up the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

“We wanted to come out and talk with them,” said Dannie Hefner, president of the Killeen School Retirees Association. “It was a very positive discussion, and we felt like most of the people we talked to were willing to listen.”

Currently, the system provides benefits to more than 300,000 retired school personnel. The system is not coordinated with Social Security, and roughly 95 percent of public school employees do not pay into that federal program.

One bill that Hefner and the other members are urging legislators to pass is House Bill 1383. The bill would up the state’s contribution to the teacher retirement system fund to 6.9 percent for the 2014 fiscal year and again to 7.4 percent for fiscal year 2015. The state constitution requires Texas to contribute a minimum of 6 percent and a maximum of 10 percent to the fund.

A second bill, Senate Bill 643, would use excess pension funding earnings to support a one-time supplemental payment, sometimes referred to as a “13th check” to retirees.

Cindee Sharp, communication director for the Texas Retired Teachers Association, said the passage of both measures would help struggling retirees, who have not seen a cost of living increase to their annuities for the last 12 years.

“They can only receive (a cost of living increase) through legislative action,” Sharp said. “This is why the increased funding to the pension is so important.”

In those 12 years, Hefner said, retired teachers have seen the cost of basic necessities continue to rise.

“Things are getting more expensive for everyone, and a lot of retired teachers are really hurting right now,” he said. “(The state) has more money this time around, and I think it’s time to do something to help.”

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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