Employers and employees covered by the Railroad Retirement Act pay higher retirement taxes than those covered by the Social Security Act. As a result, Railroad Retirement benefits are higher than Social Security benefits, especially for “career” employees (those employees who have 30 or more years of service).
The following questions and answers show the differences in Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits payable at the close of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020. They also show the differences in age requirements and payroll taxes under the two systems.
1. How do the average monthly Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits paid to retired employees and spouses compare?
The average age annuity being paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) at the end of fiscal year 2020 to career rail employees was $3,735 a month, and for all retired rail employees the average was $2,985. The average age retirement benefit being paid under Social Security was approximately $1,505 a month. Spouse benefits averaged $1,090 a month under Railroad Retirement compared to $765 under Social Security.
The Railroad Retirement Act also provides supplemental Railroad Retirement annuities of between $23 and $43 a month, which are payable to employees with railroad service prior to October 1981 who retire directly from the rail industry with 25 or more years of service.
2. Are the benefits awarded to recent retirees generally greater than the benefits payable to those who retired years ago?
Yes, because recent awards are based on higher average earnings. Age annuities awarded to career railroad employees retiring in fiscal year 2020 averaged about $4,370 a month while monthly benefits awarded to workers retiring at full retirement age under Social Security averaged nearly $2,070. If spouse benefits are added, the combined benefits for the employee and spouse would total $6,115 under Railroad Retirement coverage, compared to $3,105 under Social Security. Adding a supplemental annuity to the railroad family’s benefit increases average total benefits for current career rail retirees to about $6,135 a month.
3. How much are the disability benefits currently awarded?
Disabled railroad workers retiring directly from the railroad industry in fiscal year 2020 were awarded $3,160 a month on average while awards for disabled workers under Social Security averaged $1,415.
While both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security Acts provide benefits to workers who are totally disabled for any regular work, the Railroad Retirement Act also provides disability benefits specifically for employees who are disabled for work in their regular railroad occupation. Employees may be eligible for such an occupational disability annuity at age 60 with 10 years of service, or at any age with 20 years of service.
4. Can railroaders receive benefits at earlier ages than workers under Social Security?
Railroad employees with 30 or more years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 60, and rail employees with less than 30 years of creditable service are eligible for regular annuities based on age and service the first full month they are age 62.
No early retirement reduction applies if a rail employee retires at age 60 or older with 30 years of service and his or her retirement is after 2001, or if the employee retired before 2002 at age 62 or older with 30 years of service.
Early retirement reductions are otherwise applied to annuities awarded before full retirement age (the age at which an employee can receive full benefits with no reduction for early retirement). Full retirement age is age 66 for those born 1943 through 1954 and is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, the same as under Social Security.
Under Social Security, a worker cannot begin receiving retirement benefits based on age until age 62, regardless of how long he or she worked, and Social Security retirement benefits are reduced for retirement prior to full retirement age regardless of years of coverage.
5. Can the spouse of a railroader receive a benefit at an earlier age than the spouse of a worker under Social Security?
If a retired railroad employee with 30 or more years of service is age 60, the employee’s spouse is also eligible for an annuity the first full month the spouse is age 60. The spouse of a worker under Social Security is not eligible for a spouse benefit based on age until both the worker and the spouse are at least age 62. Regardless of age, the spouses of workers under both retirement systems are eligible if the worker is retired and the spouse is caring for a qualifying child.
6. Does Social Security offer any benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement?
Social Security does pay certain types of benefits that are not available under Railroad Retirement. For example, Social Security provides children’s benefits when an employee is disabled, retired or deceased, whereas the RRB only pays children’s benefits if the employee is deceased.
However, the Railroad Retirement Act includes a special minimum guaranty provision, which ensures that railroad families will not receive less in monthly benefits than they would have if railroad earnings were covered by Social Security rather than Railroad Retirement laws. This guaranty is intended to cover situations in which one or more members of a family would otherwise be eligible for a type of Social Security benefit that is not provided under the Railroad Retirement Act. Therefore, if a retired rail employee has children who would otherwise be eligible for a benefit under Social Security, the employee’s annuity can be increased to reflect what Social Security would pay the family.
7. How much are monthly benefits for survivors under Railroad Retirement and Social Security?
Survivor benefits are generally higher if payable by the RRB rather than Social Security. At the end of fiscal year 2020, the average annuity being paid to all aged and disabled widow(er)s was $1,825 a month, compared to $1,380 under Social Security.
Benefits awarded by the RRB in fiscal year 2020 to aged and disabled widow(er)s of railroaders averaged about $2,340 a month, compared to approximately $1,355 under Social Security.
The annuities being paid at the end of fiscal year 2020 to widowed mothers/fathers averaged $1,990 a month and children’s annuities averaged $1,195, compared to $1,030 and $900 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security.
Those awarded in fiscal year 2020 averaged $1,780 a month for widowed mothers/fathers and $1,545 a month for children under Railroad Retirement, compared to $1,015 and $905 for widowed mothers/fathers and children, respectively, under Social Security.
8. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security lump-sum death benefit provisions differ?
Both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security systems provide a lump-sum death benefit. The Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit is generally payable only if survivor annuities are not immediately due upon an employee’s death. The Social Security lump-sum benefit may be payable regardless of whether monthly benefits are also due. Both Railroad Retirement and Social Security provide a lump-sum benefit of $255. However, if a railroad employee completed 10 years of creditable railroad service before 1975, the average Railroad Retirement lump-sum benefit payable is $1,030. Also, if an employee had less than 10 years of service, but had at least 5 years of such service after 1995, he or she would have to have had an insured status under Social Security law (counting both Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits) in order for the $255 lump-sum benefit to be payable.
The Social Security lump sum is generally only payable to the widow(er) living with the employee at the time of death. Under Railroad Retirement, if the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, and was not survived by a living-with widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses.
9. How do Railroad Retirement and Social Security payroll taxes compare?
Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, like Railroad Retirement benefits, are calculated on a two-tier basis. Rail employees and employers pay Tier I taxes at the same rate as Social Security taxes, 7.65%, consisting of 6.20% for retirement on earnings up to $142,800 in 2021, and 1.45% for Medicare hospital insurance on all earnings. An additional 0.9% in Medicare taxes (2.35% in total) will be withheld from employees on earnings above $200,000.
In addition, rail employees and employers both pay Tier II taxes, which are used to finance Railroad Retirement benefit payments over and above Social Security levels. In 2021, the Tier II tax rate on earnings up to $106,200 is 4.9% for employees and 13.1% for employers.
10. How much are regular Railroad Retirement taxes for an employee earning $142,800 in 2021 compared to Social Security taxes?
The maximum amount of regular Railroad Retirement taxes that an employee earning $142,800 can pay in 2021 is $16,128, compared to $10,924.20 under Social Security. For railroad employers, the maximum annual regular retirement taxes on an employee earning $142,800 are $24,836.40, compared to $10,924.20 under Social Security. Employees earning over $142,800 and their employers will pay more in retirement taxes than the above amounts because the Medicare hospital insurance tax is applied to all earnings.
Medicare pays for an Annual Wellness Visit (AWV). It’s an awesome free preventive service that so many Medicare patients have not been taking advantage of. Since the onset of COVID-19, the number of AWVs being performed has fallen drastically, as many people have chosen to put off elective services. However, it’s important for you to do what is best for your health. That also means it may be best to take the time to have this service. If you talk to your healthcare provider and they say that it’s safe for you to have an AWV, then it makes sense to consider doing so.
First off, what is an AWV?
An Annual Wellness Visit is a visit to develop or update a preventive services plan that is personalized to your needs and to perform a Health Risk Assessment (HRA). An AWV comes in two sizes: your initial AWV and your follow-up AWV. Your initial AWV sets the baseline for future visits. Before or during this visit, you will complete a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) questionnaire, which will collect at a minimum:
Your demographic data and a health status self-assessment
Your assessment of depression/life satisfaction, stress, anger, pain, fatigue, isolation or loneliness
Information on behavioral risks, including, but not limited to, if you smoke or use tobacco products, drink alcohol or use drugs, your physical activity and your nutrition
Information on your ability to do general activities of daily living, such as washing clothes, bathing, walking, ability to stand for periods of time, etc.
During an initial AWV, your provider will create a baseline of your medical and family history, capture information about your current list of doctors and medications that you take, and gather measurements of your height, weight, blood pressure and other routine measurements as they apply based on your medical and family history. Your provider may also perform a cognitive impairment assessment to check for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and for depression and other mood disorders.
Your healthcare provider will review all of the information you provided to them, along with what they have observed focusing on your ability to do general activities of daily living, your risk of falling, plus any hearing impairments or potential home safety issues that may come up during the visit.
From all of this, your provider will create a written schedule/checklist, for the next five to 10 years for future screening visits and preventive services. Your provider will also give you personalized referrals for health education, preventive programs or counseling services based on what the AWV data has shown them.
These recommended services or programs can help you reduce risk factors or promote wellness, such as increasing weight loss and physical activity, as well as preventing falls and improving your nutrition. Referrals can be made for programs to help you quit smoking. You can also work with your provider to produce Advanced Care Planning documents such as living wills, advanced directives and other documents that instruct others about your healthcare wishes in the event you are unable to do so due to injury or illness.
That’s the first AWV. The second type of AWV is considered a follow-up AWV, or just a plain AWV.
At this AWV visit, you will review and update your HRA and your provider will update your medical/family history, the list of your current providers and medications and your measurements – including weight and blood pressure. Your provider will then make any needed changes to your screening schedule and your personalized health plan, and make new referrals, if necessary, to keep current with your needs. It is important to have this service every year. Your body is constantly changing – every day, every week, every month, every year. You take care of your plants, your car, your family, and you need to remember to take care of yourself as well.
How often can you get an AWV?
You can receive an AWV if:
It has been more than 12 months since the effective date of your first Medicare Part B coverage period, and
You have not received an Initial Preventive Physical Examination (IPPE, or “Welcome to Medicare” exam ) or an AWV within the past 12 months.
Where can I get an AWV?
Many healthcare providers are authorized to perform AWV services. They include:
A medical professional (including a health educator, registered dietitian, nutrition professional or other licensed practitioners) or a team of medical professionals working under the direct supervision of a physician.
Teaching physicians in graduate medical education programs can perform these services in certain specific circumstances.
If you have a question about the AWV, please call Palmetto GBA’s toll-free Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. They offer a TTY/TDD line at 877-566-3572. This line is for the hearing impaired with the appropriate dial-up service and is available during the same hours as customer service representatives are available. Palmetto’s website is www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me, and offers access to a free self-service internet portal, MyRRMed. MyRRMed offers you access to your healthcare data.
At this time, you can use the portal to access:
Status and details of your Railroad Medicare Part B claims;
Historical Medicare Summary Notices (MSNs) for your Railroad Medicare Part B claims;
A listing of individuals you have authorized to have access to your private health information; and
You can also submit a request to add an authorized representative or to edit or remove an existing authorized representative.
The Railroad Retirement Board’s Customer Service Plan promotes the following principles of quality public service: openness, accessibility, accountability, feedback and timeliness standards. An important part of the Customer Service Plan is its pledge to inform beneficiaries about how well the RRB meets those timeliness standards, which detail the number of calendar days within which the agency must decide to pay or deny an application for benefits.
The following questions and answers provide information about the RRB’s performance in meeting its standards in the key areas of retirement applications, survivor applications, disability applications and payments, and railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims during fiscal year 2020 (October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020). Information on the agency’s overall performance, as measured by the timeliness index developed by the agency, and the RRB’s customer service timeliness goals for fiscal year 2020 are also provided. These goals may be revised annually based on such factors as projected workloads and available resources.
1. How does the RRB measure overall timeliness for customer service?
The RRB developed an index to measure the overall timeliness of its customer service in the following benefit areas: retirement applications, survivor applications, disability applications and payments, and railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims. This composite indicator, based on a weighted average, allows for a more concise and meaningful presentation of the RRB’s customer service efforts in these benefit areas.
2. What was the overall timeliness of the RRB’s customer service in fiscal year 2020?
During fiscal year 2020, the overall benefit timeliness index was 99%. This means that the RRB provided benefit services within the Customer Service Plan’s standards 99% of the time. The timeliness index for retirement applications, survivor applications, and disability applications and payments, the processing of which includes considerable manual intervention, was 90.9%. The timeliness index for railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims, a highly automated process, was 99.7%.
3. What standards did the RRB use in fiscal year 2020 for processing applications for Railroad Retirement annuities, and how well did it meet those standards?
In fiscal year 2020, the RRB had two timeliness standards for processing Railroad Retirement annuities. For Railroad Retirement annuity applications filed in advance of an applicant’s eligibility date, the RRB’s standard was that it would make a decision to pay or deny the application within 35 days of the requested annuity beginning date. For applications filed after the eligibility date, the RRB’s standard was that it would make a decision within 60 days of the filing date. The RRB’s timeliness goals in fiscal year 2020 were 94% for both advance filing and non-advance filing applications.
Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2020, the RRB made a decision within 35 days of the annuity beginning dates on 96.4% of applicants who filed in advance, with an average processing time for these cases of 13.4 days. Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2020, the RRB made a decision within 60 days of the filing dates on 97.5% of applicants who had not filed in advance, with an average processing time of 17 days.
4. What standards did the RRB use for processing applications for survivor benefits in fiscal year 2020, and how well did it meet those standards?
The timeliness standard in fiscal year 2020 within which the RRB would make a decision to pay, deny or transfer the application to the Social Security Administration for a Railroad Retirement survivor annuity applicant not already receiving benefits as a spouse, was within 60 days of the applicant’s annuity beginning date, or the date the application was filed, whichever was later. For an applicant that was already receiving a spouse annuity, the RRB’s standard in fiscal year 2020 was within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death. For an applicant who filed for a lump-sum death benefit, the RRB’s standard in fiscal year 2020 was to make a decision to pay or deny the application within 60 days of the date the application was filed. The timeliness goal for fiscal year 2020 was 94% for processing both initial survivor applications and spouse-to-survivor conversions. For processing applications for lump-sum death benefits, the goal was 97%.
Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2020, the RRB made a decision within 60 days of the later of the annuity beginning date or the date the application was filed in 95% of the applications for an initial survivor annuity. In cases where the survivor was already receiving a spouse annuity, a decision was made within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death in 95.2% of the cases. In addition, a decision was made within 60 days of the date the application was filed in 97.3% of the applications for a lump-sum death benefit. The combined average processing time for all initial survivor applications and spouse-to-survivor conversions was 15.95 days. The average processing time for lump-sum death benefit applications was 11.1 days.
5. What standards did the RRB use for processing applications for disability annuities in fiscal year 2020, and how well did it meet those standards?
For applications filed for a disability annuity in fiscal year 2020, the RRB’s standard was to make a decision to pay or deny a benefit within 100 days of the date the application was filed. If it was determined that the applicant was entitled to disability benefits, the applicant would receive his or her first payment within 25 days of the date of the RRB’s decision, or the earliest payment date, whichever was later. The agency’s timeliness goals were 70% and 94%, respectively, for disability decisions and disability payments.
During fiscal year 2020, the RRB made a decision on 13.5% of those filing for a disability annuity within 100 days of the date the application was filed. The average processing time was 330.8 days. Of those whose applications for a disability annuity were approved, 88.5% received their first payment within the Customer Service Plan’s time standard. The average processing time was 15.3 days.
6. What were the standards in fiscal year 2020 for the handling of applications and claims for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits, and how well did the RRB meet these standards?
For fiscal year 2020, the RRB’s standard for processing an application for unemployment or sickness benefits was that the RRB would release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving an application. If an applicant filed a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB’s standard was to certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB received the claim form. The agency’s goals for processing unemployment and sickness applications in fiscal year 2020 were, respectively, 99.5% and 99.3%. The payment or decision goal for subsequent claims was 98.5%.
During fiscal year 2020, 99.3% of unemployment benefit applications and 97.4% of sickness benefit applications processed met the RRB’s standard. Average processing times for unemployment and sickness benefit applications were 1.2 and 3.1 days, respectively. In addition, in fiscal year 2020, 99.9% of subsequent claims processed for unemployment and sickness benefits met the RRB’s standard. The average processing time for claims was 4.5 days.
7. How well did the RRB meet its standards in fiscal year 2020 compared to fiscal year 2019?
Fiscal year 2020 performance met or exceeded fiscal year 2019 performance in the areas of retirement benefits, whether filed in advance or not, disability decisions and payments, lump-sum death benefits, and unemployment and sickness benefit claims.
Average processing times in fiscal year 2020 equaled or improved fiscal year 2019 processing times in the areas of Railroad Retirement applications, whether filed in advance or not, disability decisions and payments, and sickness applications. For fiscal year 2020, the agency met or exceeded all of the customer service performance goals it had set for the year, except in the areas of unemployment and sickness applications and disability decisions and payments.
National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes was a guest on the labor-oriented Rick Smith Show on Feb. 24 where he discussed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier this week that threw out the Federal Railroad Administration’s negative preemption claim which would have nullified our two person state laws.
In addition to talking about the two-person crew ruling that reinstated state laws governing crew size, Hynes also discussed the history of railroads using technology not to improve operations but instead to eliminate jobs to increase profits and the need for Amtrak safety to be tightened in the wake of January’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
CLEVELAND, Ohio (Feb. 23, 2021) — Two of the country’s largest freight railroad unions achieved a favorable decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday regarding an attempt by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to preempt legislation passed by a number of states that established a minimum of two-person operating crews on freight trains.
The case, brought by the states of California, Washington and Nevada and by the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division (SMART-TD) and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), challenged former FRA Administrator Ron Batory’s attempt to cancel the laws of those and other states while at the same time attempting to authorize nationwide one-person crews. The unions and states argued that Batory’s May 2019 order violated the comment-and-notice procedures of Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that his agency could not implicitly preempt the state safety rules.
The Court of Appeals ruled that FRA’s order was “arbitrary and capricious,” taking particular note that the assertions by FRA and the rail carriers that reducing the number of crew members in the cab to one person could improve safety “did not withstand scrutiny” and “was lacking.” The court also criticized the order as not being a “logical outgrowth” of the two-person crew proposal, because “[t]here was nothing in the [proposed regulation] to put a person on notice that the FRA might adopt a national one-person crew limit.”
The court chided FRA for basing its negative preemption decision on “an economic rationale” instead of what is its main obligation — safety.
The court also found the order’s “real and intended effect is to authorize nationwide one-person train crews and to bar any contrary state regulations.” In that it utterly failed to address the safety concerns raised by nearly 1,550 commenters who support two-person crews, the court found the order’s rationale was arbitrary and capricious, thus violating the APA.
Likewise, the court eviscerated the lack of a sound factual basis in the order, which merely cited a study funded by the Association of American Railroads, holding that “a single study suggesting that one-person crew operations ‘appear as safe’ as two-person crews seems a thin reed on which to base a national rule.”
“First, we thank the more than 1,500 BLET and SMART–TD members who took the time to comment on the need for two-person crews, because you have made a difference,” said SMART-TD President Jeremy R. Ferguson and BLET President Dennis R. Pierce. “We also congratulate the judges in this case for recognizing the former Administrator overstepped his bounds, and we look ahead to working with the FRA when crew size is again considered on a national level by the agency as a matter of public and operational safety.”
“We assert, and will continue to assert, that having two sets of eyes and two people working in concert together with any improvements in technology, will be the best way to serve public safety and to continue the effective and efficient movement of our nation’s railroads,” the union presidents said.
The court ruling, in vacating and remanding the FRA order, sends the matter of a potential rulemaking for freight railroad crew size back to FRA for the agency’s consideration. It also means that two-person crew legislation in the states that had been targeted by FRA’s order remain in effect.
The SMART Transportation Division is comprised of approximately 125,000 active and retired members of the former United Transportation Union, who work in a variety of crafts in the transportation industry.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen represents nearly 58,000 professional locomotive engineers and trainmen throughout the United States. The BLET is the founding member of the Rail Conference, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
While we are coming up to the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus being present in the United States, we are happy to report that Medicare is taking action with the administration of the coronavirus vaccine across the country.
As the vaccinations roll out, we are receiving questions about the process, and we would like to share them and the answers with you. They are:
What does the vaccine cost?
The vaccine is free. Medicare will pay your provider for administering the vaccine, and you will not be charged in any way. If a provider tries to collect co-pays or any other types of funds specific to the coronavirus vaccine (such as coinsurances or deductibles), please call our office and let us know.
How is the vaccine being distributed?
Every state has its own vaccine distribution plan, and you can access that information from each state’s health department. To find a listing of states and their health departments, their websites and phone numbers, please see the article “What You Don’t Know May Make A Difference” on the Palmetto GBA website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me. You can also find a listing on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.CDC.gov.
Where can I find out more about the individual vaccines?
There are two vaccines being used. They are Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Additionally, per the CDC, there are three large-scale (Phase 3) clinical trials in progress or being planned for three COVID-19 vaccines:
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine
Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine
Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine
As each vaccine is approved and authorized, the CDC publishes information on who should or should not receive that particular vaccine based on health profiles. Additionally, the CDC will publish information to include the vaccine’s ingredients, its safety and its effectiveness. This information is located on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html.
Can I get my shot sooner if I pay for that?
The vaccine is available based on each state’s distribution program. If someone contacts you and tells you that you can pay to either have your name put on a list to receive the vaccine (when you were not on the list yet to receive the shot) or tells you that you can pay to receive the vaccine sooner than you are scheduled for, do not believe them. These “opportunities” do not exist. And as always, do not share your personal and financial information with people who call, text or email you with any offer like this. Keep your private information private. The government will never call you and ask you for money.
If you have a question about Medicare’s coverage of the coronavirus vaccine, please call Palmetto GBA’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, or for the hearing impaired, call TTY/TDD at 877-566-3572. Customer service representatives are available Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. ET.
You are encouraged to visit the Palmetto GBA website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me, as well as enrolling to use their free self-service internet portal, MyRRMed. MyRRMed offers you access to your healthcare data. At this time, you can use the portal to access:
Status and details of your Railroad Medicare Part B claims
Historical Medicare Summary Notices (MSNs) for your Railroad Medicare Part B claims
A listing of individuals you have authorized to have access to your private health information.
You can also submit a request to add an authorized representative or to edit or remove an existing authorized representative.
Palmetto GBA is the Railroad Specialty Medicare Administrative Contractor (RRB SMAC) and processes Part B claims for Railroad Retirement beneficiaries nationwide. Palmetto GBA is contracted by the independent federal agency Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which administers comprehensive retirement-survivor and unemployment-sickness benefit programs for railroad workers and their families under the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts.
Dear members of the SMART Transportation Division:
Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Texas are struggling with the effects of the winter storm that devastated the state’s infrastructure this month.
Many people throughout the state — from big cities to rural areas — are dealing with displacement or damaged homes as a deadly icy blast made roads impassable, froze pipes and knocked out power. But even where power has been restored, Texans face the challenge of rebuilding and recovering. The silver lining is, and will continue to be, that the generosity of people around the country is helping to uplift people so that they may reclaim their lives.
We are asking our SMART-TD family to rise to the call and give so that the daunting task of starting over and rebuilding can begin for our people in Texas. In cooperation with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters and thanks to efforts by SMART Army volunteers, our union already has boots on the ground and we are helping to provide necessities to those stricken by the storm.
Of particular need are:
• Drinking water, including five-gallon jugs.
• Residential plumbing materials of all kinds, especially “Shark Bite” or “Gator Bite” brands where soldering is not required that are available at home improvement stores.
Transportation Division Vice President Chad Adams is leading relief/recovery efforts specific to the TD in the state. Contact him at 254-718-2988 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a donation of goods or if you need assistance.
Relief donation sites for goods also have been set up in conjunction with our Sheet Metal brothers and sisters:
SMART Local 54
900 West 34th Street, Suite 54
Houston, TX 77292
Call Business Manager Eddie Gonzalez at 713-245-6784 to let him know a donation is coming.
SMART Local 67
11 Burwood Lane
San Antonio, TX 78216
Call Business Manager James May at 210-867-6748 to let him know a donation is coming.
SMART Local 68
1020 South Industrial Blvd.
Euless, TX 76040
Call Business Manager Calvin Jennings at 817-832-2831 to let him know a donation is coming.
State Legislative Boards, General Committees and Locals, as well as individual members, are encouraged to make a financial donation to the SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund. Together we can help lessen the struggle, strengthen the recovery and bring hope and relief to our members in Texas. Online pay methods are being explored, but the TD Disaster Relief Fund only accepts monetary donations in the form of checks at this time.
Contributions may be sent to: SMART-TD Disaster Relief Fund
24950 Country Club Blvd., Suite 340
North Olmsted, OH 44070-5333
Thank you and God bless,
Jeremy R. Ferguson
President, SMART Transportation Division
Under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA), a “current connection with the railroad industry” is one of the eligibility requirements for both the occupational disability and supplemental annuities payable by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). It is also a factor in determining whether the RRB or the Social Security Administration pays monthly benefits to survivors of a railroad employee.
The following questions and answers describe the current connection requirement and the ways the requirement can be met.
1. How is a current connection determined under the RRA?
To meet the current connection requirement, an employee must generally have been credited with railroad service in at least 12 months of the 30 months immediately preceding the month his or her Railroad Retirement annuity begins. If the employee died before retirement, railroad service in at least 12 months in the 30 months before the month of death will meet the current connection requirement for the purpose of paying survivor benefits.
However, if an employee does not qualify on this basis, but has 12 months of railroad service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the current connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the employee did not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after the end of the last 30-month period which included 12 months of railroad service, and before the month the annuity begins or the month of death if earlier.
Once a current connection is established at the time the Railroad Retirement annuity begins, an employee never loses it, no matter what kind of work is performed thereafter.
2. Can non-railroad work before retirement break a former railroad employee’s current connection?
Yes. Full or part-time work for a non-railroad employer in the interval between the end of the last 30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the month an employee’s annuity begins, or the month of death if earlier, can break a current connection, even with minimal earnings.
Self-employment in an unincorporated business will not break a current connection. However, if the business is incorporated the individual is considered to be an employee of the corporation, and such self-employment can break a current connection. All self-employment will be reviewed to determine if it meets the RRA’s standards for maintaining a current connection.
Federal employment with the Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board, Surface Transportation Board, National Mediation Board, Railroad Retirement Board or Transportation Security Administration will not break a current connection. State employment with the Alaska Railroad, as long as that railroad remains an entity of the State of Alaska, will not break a current connection. Also, railroad service in Canada for a Canadian railroad will neither break nor preserve a current connection.
3. Is there an exception to these normal procedures for determining a current connection?
Yes. A current connection can also be “deemed” for purposes of a survivor or supplemental annuity if the employee completed 25 years of railroad service, was involuntarily terminated without fault from his or her last job in the railroad industry, and did not thereafter decline an offer of employment in the same class or craft in the railroad industry regardless of the distance to the new position. (A “deemed” current connection does not satisfy the current connection requirement for an occupational disability.)
If all of these requirements are met, an employee may be considered to have a “deemed” current connection, even if the employee works in regular non-railroad employment after the 30-month period and before retirement or death. This exception to the normal current connection requirement was established by amendments to the RRA and became effective October 1, 1981. It only covers employees still living on that date who left the rail industry on or after October 1, 1975, or who were on leave of absence, on furlough or absent due to injury on October 1, 1975.
4. Would accepting a buy-out affect whether an employee could maintain a current connection under this exception?
Generally, in cases where an employee has no option to remain in the service of his or her railroad employer, the termination of the employment is considered involuntary, regardless of whether or not the employee receives a buy-out.
However, if an employee has the choice of either accepting a position in the same class or craft in the railroad industry or termination with a buy-out, accepting the buy-out is a part of his or her voluntary termination, and the employee would not maintain a current connection under the exception.
5. An employee with 25 years of service is offered a buy-out with the option of either taking payment in a lump sum or of receiving monthly payments until retirement age. Could the method of payment affect the employee’s current connection under the exception?
No. The determining factor for whether the exception applies when a buy-out is paid is whether or not the employee stopped working involuntarily – not the payment option. The employee must always relinquish job rights to accept the buy-out, regardless of whether it is paid in a lump sum or in monthly payments. Neither payment option extends the 30-month period.
An employee considering accepting a buy-out should also be aware that if he or she relinquishes job rights to accept the buy-out, the compensation cannot be used to credit additional service months beyond the month in which the employee severed his or her employment relation, regardless of whether payment is made in a lump sum or on a periodic basis.
6. What if the buy-out agreement allows the employee to retain job rights and receive monthly payments until retirement age?
The RRB considers this type of buy-out to be a dismissal allowance. When a monthly dismissal allowance is paid, the employee retains job rights, at least until the end of the period covered by the dismissal allowance. If the period covered by the dismissal allowance continues up to the beginning date of the railroad retirement annuity, railroad service months would be credited to those months. These railroad service months would provide at least 12 railroad service months in the 30 months immediately before the annuity beginning date and maintain a regular current connection. They will also increase the number of railroad service months used to calculate the Railroad Retirement annuity.
7. Could the exception apply in cases where an employee has 25 years of railroad retirement coverage and a company reorganization results in the employee’s job being placed under social security coverage?
Yes. The RRB has considered the exception applicable in cases where a 25-year employee’s last job in the railroad industry changed from Railroad Retirement coverage to Social Security coverage and the employee had, in effect, no choice available to remain in Railroad-Retirement-covered service. Such 25-year employees have been “deemed” to have a current connection for purposes of receiving supplemental and survivor annuities.
8. Where can a person get more specific information on the current connection requirement?
More information is available on RRB.gov or by contacting an RRB field office. It is important to know that while nearly all of the RRB’s 53 field offices are physically closed to the public until further notice because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak, they remain accessible online and by phone. Customers are encouraged to contact their local office by accessing Field Office Locator at RRB.gov and clicking on Send a Secure Message at the bottom of their local office’s page. Customers who prefer talking to an RRB employee can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772); however, they may experience lengthy wait times due to increased call volume caused by COVID-19-related issues.
John Bragg, Labor Member, Railroad Retirement Board
Brothers and Sisters,
It has been one challenging year for us all and many of you have been hit extremely hard by COVID-19 – if not by the virus itself, by the impact it has had on the railroad industry. As you may have heard, Congress recently enacted legislation to provide some financial relief.
In the legislation entitled the Continued Assistance to Rail Workers Act of 2020, as outlined below, Congress essentially extended the benefits created by the CARES Act. In addition, Congress has finally granted some relief from sequestration – though not permanent. The legislation grants temporary relief from sequestration beginning 10 days from enactment through 30 days after the date on which the Presidential declaration of emergency for COVID terminates. This means that railroad employees will no longer have their regular unemployment and sickness benefits reduced for sequestration during the specified time period. In addition, the temporary relief is not retroactive to any earlier period of time.
Similar to the CARES Act, this legislation provides for the following benefits:
A recovery benefit of $600 per two-week unemployment registration period. The duration is for registration periods from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021. This amount is down from $1,200 per registration period in the CARES Act.
Extended unemployment benefits for employees who have otherwise exhausted benefits. These are payable for claims starting after enactment and on or before March 14, 2021. No extended benefits are payable after April 5, 2021.
Waiver of the seven-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits. This was also extended to March 14, 2021.
As with previous legislation, the RRB will update the information on its website with the details regarding these benefits.
In addition, the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB)’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2021 has been finalized. In the annual funding legislation, Congress provided for $123.5 million in appropriations for the RRB, which includes $9M for IT investment initiatives. Unfortunately, the total amount provided remains the same as FY 2020, but there was a change of allocation. The amount allocated for IT investment initiatives was decreased from $10M for FY 2020 to $9M for FY 2021, which translates to an increase in the agency’s general administrative budget from $113.5M for FY 2020 to $114.5M for FY 2021. This $1M increase in the general administrative budget will help cover some of the annual cost increases that the agency anticipates.
As a reminder, the agency is still facing pressure from short-staffing in field service offices and at RRB headquarters. RRB is still experiencing high call volume due to COVID-19 related issues, and anticipates the annual spike in calls that generates through January of each year. Those calling the agency’s toll-free number in January commonly ask about income tax statements, which will be mailed out by January 19, 2021. The RRB will not accept requests for duplicate tax statements until February 1, 2021.
With most RRB field offices still closed to the public because of the pandemic, the agency is again reminding customers of the self-service options available to them to help avoid lengthy wait times. I encourage all railroaders to set up a myRRB.gov account on the RRB.gov website to help avoid any possible delays. Customers can request the following documents online by visiting RRB.gov/myRRB:
Letters verifying income and monthly benefit rates
Service and compensation statement
Replacement Medicare card
Duplicate tax statement (CY 2021 available after January 31, 2021)
In addition, railroad employees who have established myRRB accounts can log in and:
Apply for and claim unemployment benefits
Claim sickness benefits
Check the status of their unemployment or sickness benefit claims
View their railroad service and compensation history
Get an estimate of retirement benefits
To establish an account, employees should go to RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled SIGN IN WITH LOGIN.GOV at the top of the page. This directs them to login.gov where they will be guided through the process of creating an account and verifying their identity — which takes about 20 minutes to complete. Once an employee’s identity is verified, they will be prompted to sign in to their account and then return to myRRB.
In closing, I would like to wish everyone in the rail community a healthy and happy 2021!
The losses and challenges of 2020 have tested us — yet, in the very definition of unity, we’ve stuck together.
I could not be prouder of our organization as we look ahead to a new year. We never shied away from anything the past year threw at us. We stood up to carriers’ disregard to safety in pandemic and non-pandemic-related matters, fought to get labor-friendly candidates elected to office and, above all, looked out for our fellow union brothers and sisters and our families, friends and neighbors when our lives and livelihoods were threatened by COVID-19.
We’ve accomplished these things despite many of us facing hardship this year — furloughs, seeing a loved one or friend deal with COVID and the overall risk of living through a pandemic. Our solidarity and determination have uplifted us and carried us beyond the challenges of 2020. As essential workers, you have been undaunted. Through the many waves of the pandemic, you’ve transported the vital goods and people needed for this country to survive. This makes you true heroes in my eyes.
In 2021, we will hopefully see the risks that the pandemic poses become less prevalent. We will look to continue to build a stronger, better and more unified organization. With the support of members across all crafts, our union will lead and build strength. We will not turn away from any fight. We will persevere, and our efforts will help our nation to recover from the harm the pandemic has caused.
Please be safe, and take all of the recommended health and safety precautions regarding COVID to heart. We have lost too many members already. I would also be remiss if I did not remind everyone that, even in a non-pandemic year, historically from the week before Thanksgiving to the week after New Year’s Day is the most-dangerous time of the year regarding transportation accidents, injuries and fatalities. Please stay focused and stay vigilant at work, and most importantly let’s take care of each other!
As always, the best gift we can give our loved ones during this holiday season is to return home safe, sound and healthy.
God bless all of you, and I wish you and your families a happy holiday season.
President — Transportation Division
The lifetime maximum benefit for the Railroad Employees National Early Retirement Major Medical Benefit (ERMA or GA-46000) Plan will increase from $171,100 to $175,700 beginning Jan. 1, 2021.
At the end of 2001, labor and management had agreed on various procedures to administer the annual changes in the amount of the lifetime maximum benefit under the ERMA Plan.
In conjunction with the formula established in 2001, a new lifetime maximum was calculated by utilizing the October 2020 consumer price index (CPI) data for Hospital and Related Services and Physician Services. The result is a lifetime maximum for 2021 of $175,700.
For individuals who have reached the lifetime maximum, the incremental maximum available is applied to eligible expenses submitted for dates of service on or after the effective date of the new maximum. For 2021, this amount will be $4,600.
This change will apply to all railroads and crafts participating in ERMA.
Private rail pensions may reduce supplemental annuities
Railroad Retirement beneficiaries are reminded that receipt of a private railroad pension may reduce the amount of a supplemental annuity payable by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The following questions and answers provide information on this subject and how 401(k) plans are affected by the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA).
1. What are the eligibility requirements for a supplemental annuity?
Monthly supplemental annuities are payable to employee annuitants with 25 or more years of rail service, a “current connection” with the railroad industry, and at least one month of creditable rail service before October 1981. Individuals with 30 years or more of rail service may begin receiving a supplemental annuity at age 60, whereas individuals with 25-29 years of service may do so at age 65. (Disabled annuitants under full retirement age, which is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, must relinquish employment rights in order for a supplemental annuity to be paid by the RRB.) Monthly supplemental annuity rates vary based on an annuitant’s years of rail service. The maximum monthly supplemental annuity rate is $43.
2. How does the receipt of a private railroad pension affect payment of a supplemental annuity?
If a retired employee also receives a private pension funded entirely, or in part, by a railroad employer, the supplemental annuity is permanently reduced by the amount of the monthly pension that is based on the railroad employer’s contributions. However, if the employer reduces the pension for the employee’s entitlement to a supplemental annuity, the amount by which the pension is reduced is restored to the supplemental annuity (but does not raise it over the $43 maximum). There is no reduction for a pension paid by a railroad labor organization.
3. What if an employee elects to receive the pension in a lump-sum payment instead of as a monthly benefit?
If a retired employee elects to receive his or her pension in a lump-sum payment instead of as a monthly benefit, the supplemental annuity is reduced in the same way as it would be if the employee was receiving the monthly benefit. (If the lump sum is paid in installments, the installment payments are not considered monthly benefit payments, but part of the single lump-sum payment.)
4. Does the receipt of a 401(k) plan distribution reduce the amount of a supplemental annuity?
No. In Legal Opinion L-2014-2, issued January 13, 2014, the RRB’s general counsel determined that 401(k) plans should not be considered supplemental pension plans as defined by the Railroad Retirement Act and, therefore, employee supplemental annuities should not be reduced due to the receipt of 401(k) distributions.
5. Are employee contributions to a 401(k) plan subject to Railroad Retirement Tier I and Tier II payroll taxes?
Yes. Federal budget legislation enacted in 1989 and effective January 1, 1990, provided that employee contributions to 401(k) plans are subject to Railroad Retirement payroll taxes and brought the treatment of 401(k) plans under Railroad Retirement law into conformity with the treatment of such plans under Social Security law. Consequently, employee contributions to a 401(k) plan are also treated as creditable compensation for Railroad Retirement benefit purposes. (For example, an employee earning $40,000 a year, but who has 10% of his earnings deferred under a 401(k) plan, would have only $36,000 reported to the IRS as earnings subject to federal income tax. However, the entire $40,000 would be subject to Railroad Retirement payroll taxes and therefore creditable as compensation under the Railroad Retirement Act.)
6. How can a person get more information about how private rail pensions and 401(k) plan payments affect supplemental annuities?
More information is available on RRB.gov or by contacting an RRB field office. It is important to know that while nearly all of the RRB’s 53 field offices are physically closed to the public until further notice because of the COVID-19 outbreak, they remain accessible by email and phone. Customers are encouraged to send a secure email to their local office by accessing the Field Office Locator and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. Customers who prefer talking to an RRB employee can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772); however, they may experience lengthy wait times due to increased call volume caused by COVID-19 related issues.
Medicare Part B premiums for 2021
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that the standard monthly Part B premium will be $148.50 in 2021, an increase of $3.90 from $144.60 in 2020. Some Medicare beneficiaries will pay less than this amount because, by law, Part B premiums for current enrollees cannot increase by more than the amount of the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security (Railroad Retirement Tier I) benefits.
Since the cost-of-living adjustment is 1.3% in 2021, some Medicare beneficiaries will see an increase in their Part B premiums but still pay less than $148.50. The standard premium amount will also apply to new enrollees in the program. However, certain beneficiaries will continue to pay higher premiums based on their modified adjusted gross income.
The monthly Part B premiums that include income-related adjustments for 2021 will range from $207.90 to $504.90, depending on the extent to which an individual beneficiary’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds $88,000 (or $176,000 for a married couple). The highest rate applies to beneficiaries whose incomes exceed $500,000 (or $750,000 for a married couple). CMS estimates that about 7% of Medicare beneficiaries pay the larger income-adjusted premiums.
Beneficiaries in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plans pay premiums that vary from plan to plan. Part D beneficiaries whose modified adjusted gross income exceeds the same income thresholds that apply to Part B premiums also pay a monthly adjustment amount. In 2021, the adjustment amount ranges from $12.30 to $77.10.
The Railroad Retirement Board withholds Part B premiums, Part B income-related adjustments and Part D income-related adjustments from benefit payments it processes. The agency can also withhold Part C and D premiums from benefit payments if an individual submits a request to his or her Part C or D insurance plan.
The following tables show the income-related Part B premium adjustments for 2021. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for all income-related monthly adjustment amount determinations. To make the determinations, SSA uses the most recent tax return information available from the Internal Revenue Service. For 2021, that will usually be the beneficiary’s 2019 tax return information. If that information is not available, SSA will use information from the 2018 tax return.
Railroad Retirement and Social Security Medicare beneficiaries affected by the 2021 Part B and D income-related premiums will receive a notice from SSA by the end of the year. The notice will include an explanation of the circumstances when a beneficiary may request a new determination. Persons who have questions or would like to request a new determination should contact SSA after receiving their notice.
Additional information about Medicare coverage, including specific benefits and deductibles, can be found at www.medicare.gov.
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2021 PART B PREMIUMS
Beneficiaries who file an individual tax return with income:
Beneficiaries who file a joint tax return with income:
Income-related monthly adjustment amount
Total monthly Part B premium amount
Less than or equal to $88,000
Less than or equal to $176,000
Greater than $88,000 and less than or equal to $111,000
Greater than $176,000 and less than or equal to $222,000
Greater than $111,000 and less than or equal to $138,000
Greater than $222,000 and less than or equal to $276,000
Greater than $138,000 and less than or equal to $165,000
Greater than $276,000 and less than or equal to $330,000
Greater than $165,000 and less than or equal to $500,000
Greater than $330,000 and less than or equal to $750,000
$500,000 and above
$750,000 and above
The monthly premium rates paid by beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate return from their spouses and who lived with their spouses at some time during the taxable year, are different. Those rates are as follows:
Beneficiaries who are married, but file a separate tax return, with income:
Income-related monthly adjustment amount
Total monthly Part B premium amount
Less than or equal to $88,000
Greater than $88,000 and less than or equal to $412,000