Message from the Executive Director: Approaching 75 with a spirit of engagement

June 06, 2022

Porter WilsonIn a few months, ERS will be 75 years old! The agency began operations on Sept. 2, 1947, and we are excited to be celebrating this big milestone. Of course, a lot has changed since we were a brand new organization of three employees and fewer than 20,000 members. One thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to engaging with our members. For this column, I thought I’d update you on ways we’re trying to stay engaged with you and others in our community.

Customer service

Our engagement with retirees, survivors and members needing customer support has taken some hits due to the pandemic, despite our significant efforts. Like so many organizations right now, we face many staffing challenges that seem unique to this time. Our hold and response times for calls and emails are longer than we want them to be. We know that can be very frustrating for people on the other end. It’s frustrating for all of us!

To address the staff shortages in Customer Benefits, we’ve changed some of the ways we recruit for and hire employees in that division. We’re seeing real progress as a result. Since I last wrote to you about customer service issues in December, we’ve hired new employees to fully staff our Survivor Benefits team, which is critical because we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in deaths over the last two years. We’ve also hired four new employees who’ll staff the Benefits Counseling Center—taking phone calls, answering emails and meeting one-on-one with members. Although these employees have completed their initial training, they are still learning the details of our benefits. So, it will be a while before they can take on the full workloads of more seasoned staff, but we are happy to have them on the ERS team. We’ve also brought on a number of new Customer Benefits employees who’ll support our members in many other ways. And, as I write this in mid-May, we have six brand new Benefits Counseling Center trainees who have eagerly started training. I’m confident we’re on the road to more responsive service.

In the meantime, you might have to wait longer than you’d like—and than we’d like—if you call or email us. Please know we appreciate your patience and are committed to providing thorough and caring service, even if it might take longer than usual to for us to respond.

We still have a number of open customer service positions and are working diligently to fill them. If you know someone looking for a rewarding job with great benefits and work-life balance—or if you are—please check out our Careers page.

Engaging with lawmakers

Even when the Texas Legislature is not in session, a small team of ERS staff keep in close touch with lawmakers and their staffs. In the interim between each session, the Texas House of Representatives and Senate study a broad range of issues, some of which require ERS to provide information on critical matters. This year, we are working with the Legislature on the following:

  • Actuarial soundness of ERS pension plans – After passing legislation last year to bring the ERS Retirement Plan back to actuarial soundness, the Senate and House are looking for ways to do the same for the Law Enforcement and Custodial Officer Supplemental Retirement Plan and Judicial Retirement System 2 Plan.
  • State pension investments – The House and Senate want to understand the ERS investment structures and programs, and exposure to Russian companies.
  • Impact of inflation – The Senate is considering how inflation is affecting people throughout the state, including state employees and retirees.
  • Health care reform – The House wants to explore more efficient ways to provide health care to Texans, possibly including state employees and retirees.

Of course, we’ll keep you updated on our legislative activities as we approach the upcoming session that starts in January.

Staying Connected

ERS had the chance to see some of you in person in April, when we were finally able to host our biennial Staying Connected events. We’re sorry we couldn’t make it to Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston this time, but were delighted to have two events in Austin—our first in-person member events in more than two years. Learn more about the events and get a link to the recorded presentations on the next page.

We plan to be back in Austin, DFW and Houston for Staying Connected in fall 2023. In the meantime, we hope to see you at enrollment events this summer and fall. And in recognition of our upcoming 75th Anniversary, please take a few minutes to share a memory of ERS at https://ers.texas.gov/About-ERS/75th-anniversary-project.

Stay connected and, above all, stay well.
Porter-Wilson
Porter Wilson