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AERA executive director discusses benefits, offers advice

VALLEY — Executive director of the Alabama Education Retirees Association Jill Jackson told local chapter members that AERA members can expect a continuing fight over benefits on their hands with the Alabama legislature in the coming years and that the way to fight back is to have an active organization, to recruit as many new members as possible, and to exhibit strength in numbers when the legislature is in session.

Jackson said she’s a fighter by nature and it’s an honor for her to fight on behalf of education retirees.

“My career goal is to get a COLA (cost of living adjustment) for you,” she said. “People have told me it will never happen. I’m a fighter, and when I hear that it lights a fire under me.”

Jackson said that some education retirees can qualify for food stamps.

“I have a problem with that,” she said.

Jackson added that there are rumors that some legislators would like to get rid of Dr. David Bronner, the head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the pension fund for state employees.

Dr. Bronner has been with the RSA since 1973. At that time, the organization had $500 million in funds and was owed $1.5 billion by the state. By the end of 2017, RSA has amassed over $38 billion in investments, making RSA the 50th largest pension fund in the world.

“I love to advocate on your behalf,” Jackson said, “but we are up against a lot. We need to speak the same conversations over and over. Legislators have told me that if ten people contact them on one issue it gets their attention. It’s important for you to make phone calls, to leave messages and to send e-mails. I’m non-partisan and can’t tell you who to vote for, but I urge you to do your homework and to keep up with what’s going on. By all means, vote.”

Jackson said there’s a lack of respect for public education advocates in the state house.

“They want to take money from the Education Trust Fund, and some of it is for crazy stuff,” she said.

She cited a new car museum in north Alabama that got funded this way. There’s been some speculation that kickbacks are involved in such shenanigans. A legislator’s vote on that could be rewarded with a campaign contribution.

Jackson said that research shows that there aren’t many homeless students in Alabama but there are a good many displaced students.

“You probably have some of these in your community,” she said. “It’s when the mother of school-age children doesn’t have a safe place to stay and she and her children are living with someone.”

Jackson said it’s not
that unusual for some families to live in their cars. She added that children in such situations do okay when it comes to school supplies, but it’s a different matter when it comes to personal products such as clean clothes, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc.

“Our health insurance premiums won’t be going up next year,” Jackson said. “And that’s good news, but we have United Healthcare for just one more year. You have one more year for SilverSneakers. This is a great program for you to participate in if you aren’t already.”

Jackson said that seniors will be getting new Medicare cards this year. One change is that your Social Security number won’t be on it.

“It’s critical for us to use our voice,” Jackson said. “I am here to fight for you and to advocate for you. I urge you to be a member of AERA. Joining your local chapter (CCERA) doesn’t make you a member. You have to join separately. The more members we have, the more influence we can have.”