Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Call Your Legislators! (from the Illinois Retired Teachers Association)

As you probably know, 33 seats in the Illinois General Assembly will be open as current legislators have decided not to run. Some incumbents are meeting challengers from the opposite party.   Contact your local state senator, state representative, and any challengers they may have with the following questions:

1.    Do you support continued full state funding for the Teachers’ Retirement Insurance Program (TRIP)?

The state of Illinois pays less than ¼ of the cost of the premiums for the retiree health insurance program. There are four entities that contribute to the premiums: 

*State of Illinois ($110 million out of the $450 million for the cost of TRIP)
*Local school districts
*Current teachers
*Premiums paid by retirees

For years the state of Illinois has attempted to not only cut off funding for TRIP, but also change current state statute to take out the continuing appropriation for the funding of the program now and in the future. A continuing appropriation is a statute that ensures the funding of a program continues even though it is not listed in the state budget.

2.    Do you support allowing TRIP participants to opt in and out of the state insurance plan during each year’s benefit enrollment period?

Currently, TRS Annuitants are the only state of Illinois retirees who cannot opt back into their insurance program if they have opted out. All other state retirees have this ability (including judges and legislators).

3.    Do you support continued full funding for Teachers’ Retirement Service?

Fully funding means not taking additional pension holidays or putting “smoothing” in place to create additional pension balloon payments in the future.

4.    Do you oppose cost shifting the state’s pension payment obligation to local school districts?

[If Illinois policymakers pass a bill to shift its responsibility of paying the “normal costs” to local school districts, many school districts would not be able to afford to pay these costs, even if they are phased over the years. 

“A shift would create a new and large financial requirement for school districts, which would be difficult for many to meet. Moreover, Illinois ranks last in terms of state spending on K-12 education, and school districts are already relying heavily on local property taxes. Shifting the state’s normal cost obligation onto school districts would only mean that an even higher proportion of school districts’ revenue would come from property taxes.

“Furthermore, property tax bases would not be sufficient to absorb any shift in the employer normal cost for teacher pensions…  School districts are demographically and financially varied, and it would be difficult to impose a uniform normal cost shift on them… Illinois ranks last in terms of state spending on K-12 education, and school districts are already relying heavily on local property taxes… While shifting the state’s normal cost obligations onto school districts may provide some relief to the state’s budget, it will not mitigate these financial obligations and will instead push them onto school districts that, on average, already derive the majority of their revenue from local sources” (The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, March 2012).

What would be other probable effects? In cash-strapped school districts, of which there are many, teachers would not receive increases in their salaries; many teachers would lose their jobs; student programs would be reduced or eliminated; class sizes would increase; it would be more difficult to recruit, as well as retain and attract, the best teaching candidates (which is already happening)… (Education Sector Policy Briefs).

The public school system in Illinois would be jeopardized; the public school teacher’s dignity and guaranteed retirement security would be imperiled, and their students’ right to be taught by the very best teachers available in Illinois would be at risk.

Approximately one-third of the total pension payment is the normal costs; the other two-thirds of the payment is the interest owed on the debt that the state created for not fully funding the pension system for several decades. To transfer the normal costs of the teachers’ retirement system to the school districts is to diminish the state’s role in providing income retirement security to its public employees, which has been the (Democratic-controlled) state’s intention all along —Glen Brown].

5.    Do you support expanding the number of days a retiree can substitute teach without affecting his/her pension?

Illinois is facing a statewide teacher shortage.  Retirees are a great resource to fill these open positions in struggling school districts.

6.    Do you oppose taxing retirement income?

[“Currently, seven states do not tax individual income – retirement or otherwise: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Two other states – New Hampshire and Tennessee – impose income taxes only on dividends and interest (5 percent flat rate for both states).

“Five states that do not tax any teacher pensions are Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania. 

“The states that impose state income taxes on teacher pensions fall into three groups: 

● Five states exempt 100% of their own state's teacher pensions from their taxes while taxing some or all income from out-of-state teacher pensions. These states are: Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York. Of these five, Massachusetts and Michigan exempt another state's pensions if the other state provides a reciprocal exemption.

● Eleven states have no special tax provisions for teacher pensions and, for income tax purposes, treat them the same as other forms of income. These states are: California, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.

● The remaining 20 states either exempt a certain amount of teacher pension income from their tax or provide tax credits to reduce the tax. The information applies to the 2009 tax year unless otherwise noted”—Glen Brown].

7.    What is your position on protecting the pension and health insurance benefits promised to retirees when they were active teachers?

[The Pension Protection Clause makes it “clear that if something qualifies as a benefit of the enforceable contractual relationship resulting from membership in one of the State’s pension or retirement systems, it cannot be diminished or impaired… [The State of Illinois] may not rewrite the Pension Protection Clause to include restrictions and limitations that the drafters did not express and the citizens of Illinois did not approve... [P]ension benefits are insulated from diminishment or impairment by the General Assembly…” (Kanerva v. Weems, 2014 IL 115811, 38, 41, 48)—Glen Brown].

8.    Do you oppose changing the state constitution to amend/delete the pension protection clause?

The pension protection clause of the constitution is what guarantees that the state of Illinois cannot change the benefits you receive in your pension at any time.

[Public employees and retirees know that to possess a right to a promised deferred compensation, such as a defined-benefit pension, is to assert a legitimate claim with all Illinois legislators to protect that right, and that fulfilling a contract is a legal and moral obligation justified by trust among elected officials and their constituents. 

Public employees and retirees know the “Pension Protection Clause” is a binding legal commitment and requirement of justice, and that justice demands we keep our covenants with one another: for when legislators swear an oath to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions, then citizens of Illinois have also acquired the right to expect that they will uphold that pledge. This is a matter of important legal and moral concern for all citizens of Illinois, for all legal claims are validated by a moral framework since the concept of justice is grounded in ethics and morality.

According to Eric M. Madiar, former Parliamentarian to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton in 2015, “…Public Act 98­0599 [the senate bill that attempted to diminish and impair Article XIII, Section 5 in December 2013] was not a response to an unknown or unforeseeable problem, but rather a response to ‘a crisis for which the General Assembly is largely responsible.’ The court further found that the Act was not the least restrictive means the State could have used to address the problem, but ‘an expedient to break a political stalemate.’

“In addition, the court indicated that the Act was tantamount to a taking of private property because the Act failed to distribute the burdens of pension funding evenly among Illinoisans let alone the State’s contract partners. The court explained that the U.S. Constitution ‘bar[s] Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.’   

“In short, whether under a Contract Clause or Takings theory, the same arguments that prevailed in the Pension Reform decision against Public Act 98­0599 would equally apply to the… proposed amendment. As a result, the proposal amendment does not offer a plausible path to unilaterally reduce the fiscal burden of State and local pension obligations…” (Read Amending Article XIII, Section 5 (The Pension Protection Clause) of the Illinois Constitution). 

Any attempt to attack the Pension Protection Clause is unethical, duplicitous, and illegal. Moreover, to amend the Pension Protection Clause would not reduce the state systems’ current $130+ billion unfunded liability that was largely created by the Illinois General Assemblies and Illinois governors; an amended Pension Protection Clause would not address the real fiscal issue caused by the state’s out-sized pension debt.

It would violate the State and U.S. Constitutions: Article 1, Section 16 of the Illinois Constitution: “No ex post facto law or law impairing the obligation of contracts… shall be passed”;  Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution: “No State shall… pass any… ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts…”

To also ignore the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and change laws that protect one group of people is to ignore due process and equal protection of the laws that guarantee contractual agreements. Read the Illinois Supreme Court ruling: docket number 118585, filed on May 8, 2015—Glen Brown].

9.    Do you support or oppose bonding to bail the state out of the pension debt?

It is not realistic for the state to bond its way out of this problem that it created by taking pension holidays and putting balloon payments in place in the past.

This is not an exhaustive list of questions but at least it is a starting point for a conversation with your representatives. Passing any information you get to the IRTA will be helpful for the IRTAPAC Committee during the endorsement process.  If you meet with a legislator, please provide a short summary of his/her responses to Marge Sucansky or Vic Corder. 

IRTA will begin organizing for the November general election in late March, so your input will be appreciated.   Endorsement is non-partisan and based only on the legislator’s beliefs regarding issues that are important to retired educators.

Your district numbers are on your voter registration card.  If you have any questions regarding your district or people running for the house or the senate in that district, feel free to contact us at the contact information below. 

Vic Corder—state legislative committee 773-857-2161
Marjorie Sucansky—WLSU legislative committee 630-985-2620

You can also go to

Click on the drop down menu
Click on “Contact a Legislator”
Click on: “Find a Legislator”
Using your zip or other information you can find a legislator.

The legislative committee of IRTA is recommending a grass roots lobbying effort on the part of members. Our PAC currently contains $171,799 which can be used by members who attend fund raisers for candidates. If you would like to attend a coffee or fund raiser, please notify Julie or Vince who will contact IRTA and get the check for you to present to the candidate. Obviously, IRTA cannot compete monetarily with the big donors to candidates, so offering your time, stuffing envelopes, making calls, letting the candidate know you are from IRTA and have concerns about your pensions and health benefits… can make up for money donations.

After the election, it will be our job to educate the new “guys and gals” about our issues as most legislators don’t understand the pension situation. 

Marge Sucansky
Legislative Committee

Monday, April 23, 2018

Early Signs of Dementia

“...Memory loss is a common symptom, but different types of memory loss can mean different things. Memory loss is closely associated with dementia, so it’s the symptom that most people think about when considering the diseases that cause dementia—Alzheimer’s, for example. However, physicians now know that memory loss doesn’t always occur in precisely the same way.

“‘With an Alzheimer’s type dementia, some of the earliest indicators are short-term memory loss—that’s what’s responsible for asking the same question over and over within a few minutes, or even a few hours,’ Clinical Psychologist Dr. Roselyn G. Smith says. ‘The long-term memory can still be very sharp and intact into the more moderate to more advanced stages [of Alzheimer’s].’

“Alzheimer’s prevents the brain from encoding memories, so the brain is unable to store its experiences. In contrast, other dementias may prevent the brain from recalling memories; the experiences are still in storage, but the person won’t be able to call them up. That’s a key factor that physicians consider when differentiating Alzheimer’s from other dementias.

“‘When we give cues to stimulate the short-term memory to someone who’s in the first stages of vascular dementia, the memory cues will prompt the person to recall what they’ve been asked to remember,’ Smith says. Vascular dementia is the second-most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s.

“‘When we do that with someone who’s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s-type dementia, the memory cues will not [work]. The difference is that with vascular-type dementia, memories are still encoded in the memory center of the brain, the hippocampus,’ says Smith. ‘With Alzheimer’s type dementia, the hippocampus itself is where the plaques develop and the neural fibers begin to tangle, so they’re not able to encode new information. If it’s not encoded, no cue is going to help, because it’s simply not there.’

“Smith notes that other factors can prevent the memory from working properly. For instance, people with sleep disorders often have trouble with memory loss, per a 2008 study from researchers at UCLA. Researchers believe that we use sleep to organize our memories, so people with sleep disorders may have trouble recalling certain events. To an untrained person, that type of memory loss might seem like a sign of dementia, which is why physicians perform a much more detailed analysis of all of a patient’s symptoms. ‘Memory problems deserve [clinical] attention,’ Smith says, ‘but they’re not always indicative of dementia.’

“Mood changes can be drastic—and in some cases, frightening. Sudden mood changes can also indicate dementias, but again, they occur differently from patient to patient. Frequently, aspects of a patient’s personality will become amplified; a person who’s normally very sweet will become excessively sweet, or a bossy person will become downright authoritarian. In other cases, people with dementia will recognize that they’re having trouble concentrating or remembering, so they’ll become quiet, depressed, and withdrawn. Mood changes are often one of the first signs of dementia, because they’re the first thing that family members notice. A 2015 study published in the journal Neurology showed that mood changes occurred in Alzheimer’s patients long before other symptoms—including memory loss—manifested. ‘In the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, there can be a kind of paranoia that develops, and eventually some agitation that goes with it,’ Smith says.

“With vascular dementia, apathy and depression are common, and patients may experience rapid mood changes that fluctuate between extremes. They may show too much emotion at relatively trivial events, which can be frightening for family members. Alzheimer’s patients often believe that people are stealing or hiding things from them, and they may become insensitive to the needs of their loved ones. While these types of mood changes are distressing, they’re often somewhat manageable through diet, exercise, and medication.

“Some patients show an inability to follow directions. As the brain degenerates or neural pathways become damaged, patients may have trouble concentrating on certain types of tasks. They may become confused easily and have trouble getting from one place to another without constant guidance. Again, patients often ignore these symptoms at first.

“‘I had a case one time where a very successful individual in his early ’70s was unable to complete an intake form,’ Smith says. The form consisted of a series of true-or-false questions, presented in vertical columns. The patient was completely unable to complete the form correctly, and he showed issues with problem solving. ‘Each individual item was numbered, and he couldn’t even track with that,’ Smith says. ‘He started answering randomly across the horizontal rows of items.’ The patient had also had trouble locating Smith’s office for his first appointment. That prompted Smith to recommend a full neurological workup, which led to a diagnosis.

“In other cases, the symptoms become noticeable when a patient becomes confused easily while attempting to complete household tasks. ‘Many patients [experience] agnosia, which is a failure to identify objects, despite the visual sensory functions being in place,’ Smith says. In other words, they can see perfectly, but they have trouble interpreting. Patients may also have trouble identifying family members, although Smith notes that this is a fundamentally different type of symptom. ‘Recognition of the face occurs in a very specific hub area of the greater visual cortex,’ Smith explains. ‘It’s located very precisely in the brain.’

“Language disturbances can also occur. A patient might have trouble producing language or comprehending others. This is called aphasia, and it’s especially common in stroke victims and Alzheimer’s patients. As Smith tells us, language is controlled by specific parts of the brain, and the exact nature of a patient’s language disturbances can help physicians determine the type of dementia. In Alzheimer’s patients, for example, aphasia often occurs without any change in the patient’s intellect—they’re just as intelligent and aware as ever, but they have trouble recalling words or listening to their loved ones.

“‘There may eventually come a time when the person can hardly communicate at all using language,’ the Alzheimer’s Society writes on its website. ‘This can be distressing for them and those supporting them, but there are ways to maintain communication and support the person to express themselves.’

“Medical tests can show certain types of dementia. As we mentioned earlier, many dementia symptoms can be attributed to other health issues. When physicians attempt to diagnose their patients, they’ll look at all available symptoms to make a determination. They might also perform imaging studies to look for brain damage, and in some cases, they can perform cerebrospinal fluid tests to locate certain proteins associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s. With some dementias—for instance, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, also known as mad cow disease—doctors may ask for blood tests.

“With that said, Smith notes that dozens of different diseases and conditions can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms. As such, doctors need to perform a variety of tests to diagnose their patients, which is one of the reasons that early detection is so important. Unfortunately, many patients avoid their physicians because they’re afraid of a diagnosis. That’s a mistake, since things like blood clots, tumors, substance abuse issues, and thyroid issues can also cause the symptoms. 

“Even when a patient has a degenerative dementia, treatment is critically important. Dementia is not an unavoidable part of aging, contrary to popular belief. ‘Treatment can really make a difference, once there’s a diagnosis,’ Smith says, ‘but you can’t get that from a list on the internet’” (Five Early Signs of Dementia and Why Everyone Should Know Them).

For 33 more articles on Alzheimer's, click here.