If you were looking for the latest in pension and benefits information, NJREA’s annual fall meeting was the place to be in September. Over 220 retired leaders and members packed the Nottingham Ballroom in Hamilton to learn more about important issues affecting public education employees.

NJREA’s Immediate Past President Pat Provnick kicked off the meeting by welcoming attendees and then invited former NJEA President Edithe Fulton, current member of the New Jersey State Board of Education (BOE) to the podium to formally install the new NJREA officers.

“By electing these officers, you have asked them to give unusual time and effort to serve you and your association. You, in turn, owe them your loyalty and support,” Fulton declared. “As members you must heed their communications, answer their calls for help, and serve as full and enthusiastic partners to meet the challenges ahead.”

NJREA President Judy Perkins then took the podium to conduct the Delegate Council meeting. The first order of business was to elect a new Minority Concerns representative to serve on the NJREA Executive Committee. T. Charles Taylor, an Essex County member who previously served as an NJREA representative to the NJEA Delegate Assembly, was nominated and unanimously elected.

Perkins commended the NJREA Editorial Committee for receiving two first place awards this past year, one from NEA-Retired for “Best Established State Retired Newsletter” and the other from the State Education Association Communicators for “Best Constituent Newsletter.”

Optum Rx switch explained

Perkins introduced Kevin Kelleher, NJEA’s director of Research, who discussed the reasons for the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission’s (SEHBP) decision to switch retirees’ prescription coverage to Optum Rx. He reminded attendees that SEHBP members are, in essence, self-insured. SEHBP has a plan design and oversight committee, and through them, determines what to cover and has final say on all benefits decisions.

Kelleher spoke at length about the rumors surrounding the switch, assuring all that there is no increase in the copays and other costs rumored to be associated with Optum Rx.

“There are no changes in retirees’ medical and dental, nor are there any changes that move you into Medicare Advantage,” Kelleher stated. “While this may seem like an inconvenience, it is actually an opportunity to save the state $1.6 billion over the next three years and cement our stance that reduction in health care costs without reduction in coverage is possible.”

Kelleher stated that he is working on a retiree-focused Q & A with Optum Rx that will clearly explain the next steps and provide NJREA members with accurate information about their prescription coverage. This document will be first available at the annual NJREA Convention and will be found on the NJREA webpage.

NJREA officers gave their reports, including a membership update from Walt Krichling, NJREA first vice president, who spoke of the 2017-18 NJREA membership drive efforts.

“While we have slightly fewer members enrolled than last year at this time, I am confident that we are on track to break records,” said Krichling. “We are working with NJEA to update our membership handbook and are constantly looking for innovative ways to urge retirees to join NJREA to build our ranks and keep us strong.”

In her report, Second Vice President Joan Wright thanked the Program Planning Committee members for their hard work and encouraged attendees to take advantage of all the opportunities the annual NJREA Convention, held again this year at the Resorts Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, has to offer NJREA members.

Pensions and politics

Beth Schroeder Buonsante, associate director of Government Relations, spoke on political issues and provided an update on the pension funding progress.

“At this point, the state is funding the pension at approximately five-tenths of the required amount, obviously less than the five-sevenths required by law,” Buonsante said. “However, we are keeping a close eye on the effect that the lottery proceeds will have on the fund. “

Buonsante reminded attendees that the value of the $13 billion lottery asset will be applied to the state’s unfunded liabilities, which currently stand at $49 billion in state pension obligations. Annual revenues of about $1 billion will be directly deposited into our pension fund, and, if this effort is successful, then it will bring the overall funding level for all seven retirement systems from 45 to 59 percent.

She then recapped NJEA/NJREA’s efforts in the upcoming general election, most notably the gubernatorial race and the organization’s push to unseat Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“In this election, we have the opportunity to find, support, and elect a governor and legislators who share our values and stand with us on our top priorities,” Buonsante declared. “The bottom line: it’s time for a change.”

NJREA Government Relations Committee chairs Sue Maurer and Carol Friedrich followed Buonsante’ s presentation and urged attendees to find ways to get involved in electing NJEA PAC-endorsed candidates throughout the state.

Opportunities for activism

After lunch, NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty—who also serves as the NJEA liaison to NJREA—spoke on how union advocacy has been an integral part of his life since he was a child. Beatty then reminded the retirees that the NJEA/NJREA is one of the most powerful organizations in the state. He said that the more we come together, the greater our power to effect change.

“I know that you understand that in order for our children to be successful, they need all members of their educational ‘family,’ both past and present, looking out for them,” Beatty declared. “I also know that retirees’ power is legendary, so I have no doubt that we will do great things together.”

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