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!
Edward J. Carney, 87, of Ft. Wadsworth, Staten Island, N.Y., died suddenly Saturday, Nov. 7.
Carney began his railroading career on the Staten Island Railroad, a subsidiary of the B&O Railroad, in June 1955. Over the course of his 40 years of railroad employment, he worked as a conductor in freight, passenger, yard and road service.
Brother Carney took an interest in union affairs and became the local chairperson of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen Lodge 560, representing conductors and trainmen on the Staten Island Railroad, in October 1963. After numerous representation elections on the property, he eventually came to represent conductors, trainmen, engineers, signalmen, maintenance-of-way employees, electricians, boilermakers, machinists, car inspectors and car cleaners. Brother Carney held the position of local chairperson for over 30 years, during which time he became the local chairperson of Local 1440 in Staten Island, N.Y. Carney also served as a local delegate for more than 30 years and attended seven United Transportation Union (UTU) quadrennial conventions.
He also served on the UTU Board of Appeals for two terms from 1992 through 1999. Carney was a member of the union for more than 40 years. Many will remember Brother Carney as the master of ceremonies at numerous UTU regional meetings and conventions. He always had a joke or two prepared at the events and always graced us with his voice to sing both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems. A U.S. Army veteran, Carney always paused at each event he emceed to recognize his fellow brothers and sisters in arms. He retired from his position of master of ceremonies at the close of the 2013 regional meetings in Boston and Anaheim.
Visitation for Brother Carney was Monday, November 9 from 4 – 9 p.m., Tuesday November 10 from 2 – 4 p.m. and 7 – 9 p.m. at the Martin Hughes Funeral Home, 530 Narrows Rd. S., Staten Island, NY 10304. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held Wednesday, November 11 at 10:15 a.m. at St. Charles Roman Catholic Church, 200 Penn Ave., Staten Island, NY 10306, interment will follow at 12:15 p.m. at St. Mary’s Cemetery, 155 Parkinson Ave., Staten Island, NY 10305.
The Office of the Labor Member is pleased to announce that our Pre-Retirement Seminar presentation is now available to view online. We designed this program to help educate those nearing retirement about the benefits available to them, and what they can expect during the application process.
This popular program has become a valuable resource to RRB customers and employees alike. It helps promote a better understanding of our benefit programs among the railroad community, and in turn, improves the effectiveness of our benefit program operations.
While we typically conduct several seminars across the country annually, we were forced to cancel all in-person events this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This provided us with the unique opportunity to reimagine our platform capabilities and prioritize creating a web version of the seminar.
To access the video online, visit RRB.gov/PRS and click on View Pre-Retirement Seminar Presentation. Because we cover several aspects of railroad retirement benefits in great detail, the entire presentation is over an hour long. View shorter segments of the program by selecting a seminar topic on the same web page. Available topics include: Retired Employee and Spouse Benefits, Spouse Annuities, Working After Retirement, Survivor Benefits, and Items Affecting All Retirement and Survivor Benefits.
At this time, unemployment and sickness benefits are not covered in the program because of the ongoing uncertainty of additional COVID-19 relief legislation. We recommend visiting RRB.gov/coronavirus for the most up-to-date information.
Most railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, will increase in January 2021 due to a rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2019 to the corresponding period of the current year.
Cost-of-living increases are calculated in both the tier I and tier II benefits included in a railroad retirement annuity. Tier I benefits, like social security benefits, will increase by 1.3 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will go up by 0.4 percent, which is 32.5 percent of the CPI increase. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) are not adjusted for the CPI change.
In January 2021, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $30 a month to $2,936 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $42 a month to $4,263. For those aged widow(er)s eligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $16 a month to $1,453. However, widow(er)s whose annuities are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 will not receive annual cost-of-living adjustments until their annuity amount is exceeded by the amount that would have been paid under prior law, counting all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable. About 54 percent of the widow(er)s on the RRB’s rolls are being paid under the 2001 law.
If a railroad retirement or survivor annuitant also receives a social security or other government benefit, such as a public service pension, any cost-of-living increase in that benefit will offset the increased tier I benefit. However, tier II cost-of-living increases are not reduced by increases in other government benefits. If a widow(er) whose annuity is being paid under the 2001 law is also entitled to an increased government benefit, her or his railroad retirement survivor annuity may decrease.
However, the total amount of the combined railroad retirement widow(er)’s annuity and other government benefits will not be less than the total payable before the cost-of-living increase and any increase in Medicare premium deductions.
The cost-of-living increase follows a tier I increase of 1.6 percent in January 2020 and 2.8 percent in January 2019, the latter of which had been the largest in 7 years. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will announce Medicare Part B premiums for 2021 later this year, and this information will be available then at www.medicare.gov.
In late December the RRB will mail notices to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2021.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, members of SMART Transportation Division led the way, along with members of the BLET and TCU/IAM,uniting in cities across America to spread awareness about cuts coming to Amtrak if the Senate fails to act now.
On Sept. 9, Amtrak President and CEO William Flynn appeared before a U.S. House committee saying that the carrier needs approximately $5 billion in emergency funding to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If no additional funding is provided by the federal government, the carrier has announced cuts, effective Oct. 1, of approximately 2,000 unionized employees and a planned reduction of service that would hit long-distance and state-run routes that serve rural areas especially hard.
Rallies were scheduled by SMART-TD and other unions to take place a day before the planned cuts in four major cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
In a show of supportfor Amtrak funding and in an effort to raise awareness, Wisconsin State Legislative Director Andy Hauck and Michigan State Legislative Director Donald Roach, with the help of Local 168 member Nate Hatton (Dearborn, Mich.),also led the members in conductingpop-up rallies in Milwaukee and Dearborn, Mich., respectively.
SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson accused Amtrak management of setting up the nation’s major passenger carrier to fail at the rally in Chicago, “They [Amtrak’s Flynn and his board] want to take Amtrak and reduce it to a three-day-a-week service for a long-haul with a two-day layover here in Chicago when you’re trying to go from New York to L.A. How is that fair to the ridership? There’s no way that’s going to survive. That’s set up to fail. The couplets aren’t there. They can’t keep people moving. They’re setting us up to fail.”
Ferguson continued to address the assembled crowd, “We bust our butts, day in and day out, to give our country this service, and this is what the board wants to do. Now you guys have gone one step further, you Amtrak employees. You voted to waive off your pay increase this past July. You did what was best for this country and for Amtrak, didn’t you? How did you get repaid? With the threat of furlough tomorrow, right? Twothousand people could be in the streets tomorrow!”
Ferguson also pointed out that Amtrak management is restarting their salaries and 401(k) contributions coinciding with the Oct. 1 scheduled implementation date of furloughs of 2,000 union members. He also stated that Amtrak management has restructured their bonus program to better benefit themselves.
“We’re not going to take that! We’re not going to stand for that! Not when you gave up your pay raises to protect this country and this service! Unheard of! So, let’s get busy out there! Let’s get fired up!”
Meanwhile, at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol building, SMART General President Joe Sellers gave a rousing speech to the crowd featuring many members employed by Amtrak who might lose their jobs.
“You are our essential workers. You are moving our essential workers. Every day, to the hospitals, to the first responders, to the police. You are moving America! We need to continue to make sure that you have the funding, to continue to make sure that you continue to move America through this pandemic! We need you! And we need Congress to make sure that they pass the HEROES Act.”
Sellers pointed out that the HEROES Act, or H.R. 6800, was relaunched on May 15, 2020, and has yet to be voted on by the U.S. Senate. “We need to make sure that the new relaunched HEROES Act is passed. To protect you. To protect essential workers. To protect the job that you do, day in and day out,” Sellers said.
Sellers concluded his fiery speech by thanking our essential Amtrak members, “I want to thank you for the work that you do, and Congress should be thanking you for the work that you do day in and day out! We need the Senate to make sure that they take this seriously. The White House is dragging their feet. The Senate is dragging their feet. That is unacceptable! Thank you, brothers and sisters. We are going to make a difference and we are going to effect change. We are going to effect change in November, and we are going to carry this through.”
SMART-TD Alternate National Legislative Director Jared Cassity was also featured in a report that aired on Fox 5 News in D.C. at the rallyand U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Ohio and Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts also spoke at the rally.
New York City and Los Angeles, Calif.
General Chairperson Anthony Simon (Long Island Railroad) and Scott Carey, legislative representative of Local 95 (Albany, N.Y.), took part in a rally with BLET and TCU members outside Penn Station, while California State Legislative Director Louis Costa led a morning demonstration in front of L.A.’s Union Station.
In Dearborn, Hatton told the Arab American News, “This is a slap in the face to all the essential workers who have been serving the public throughout the pandemic — sacrificing their health and time with their families and loved ones. In 2019, we moved a total of 1,540,972 passengers on the Michigan Corridor. In Dearborn alone, we boarded and deboarded 73,589 passengers. When this pandemic first began, we were told not to wear masks or gloves as it would frighten passengers, while management was told to work from home. As a union, in good faith, we decided to give up pay to help the company only now to be furloughed.”
SLD Donald Roach also pointed out to the news outlet that H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act,which included funding for Amtrak, passed the House on July 1 and has stalled on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
“This cut from Amtrak is not just employees being furloughed, it’s reducing service from three trains a day in both directions, east and west, to one train a day to Chicago and the shutdown of the Grand Rapids–to–Chicago line,” Roach said.
Local 168 member Joel Myers was there rallying along with one of his two children. Myers stands to lose a lot if furloughed with one of his sons currently going through chemotherapy treatments.
“If we are all furloughed, we will need to figure out how to keep food on the table for our families,” Hattontold the Arab American News. “We will be losing a great public utility. This will greatly impact Dearborn and the Metro Detroit area as this is a mode of transportation that people rely on.”
In Wisconsin, SMART members along with All Aboard Wisconsin boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder and rode to Wisconsin Dells, SLD Andy Hauck told SMART-TD. “We had press coverage at both locations and an event in Wisconsin Dells. The train crew was excellent. [The riders] included six legislators and prospective legislators that SMART-TD has supported.”
The rallies caught the notice of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who embarked on a whistle-stop tour aboard an Amtrak train that departed from Cleveland the day after the first presidential debate and later went into Pennsylvania.
“It’s safe to say I’ve gotten to know the hardworking men and women of @Amtrakover the years — I’m proud to stand with them as they face furloughs due to funding cuts. These essential workers have kept us moving during this pandemic –– now it’s time we have their backs,” Biden’s tweet the evening of Sept. 30 read.
SMART-TD is urging members to contact Congress about passing emergency funding for Amtrak. Not only are the livelihoods of SMART and other union members at stake, but Railroad Retirement will also take a huge hit to its funding if these layoffs stick.
G. Thomas DuBose, who served one term as president of the SMART Transportation Division’s immediate predecessor union, passed away on Aug. 20, 2020, after a short illness.
G. Thomas DuBose served as UTU president from 1991 until his retirement in 1995.
DuBose, United Transportation Union (UTU) president from 1991 to 1995, had experienced health complications recently and had been placed in hospice care. He was 85 years old.
“The union extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of former President DuBose,” SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson said. “His leadership helped to guide our union through a period of great difficulty and transition. As an organization, we all are saddened, and we mourn his loss.”
DuBose assumed the union presidency during a time when great transition was occurring in the use of technology, especially with the establishment of the internet. The union acquired its first mainframe during his administration as UTU made its initial steps toward the computerization of its operations. An email system for the union and an awards database accessible to international officers and general chairpersons was created, and he also oversaw a union restructuring with the consolidation of a number of General Committees, and the establishment of an accident investigation committee. The UTU also joined the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO for the first time during his tenure.
“I feel I left this union in better condition than I found it,” DuBose said in a UTU News article as the union transitioned from his leadership to succeeding President Charles L. Little in 1995.
David Hakey, who worked alongside DuBose during his two campaigns for the union presidency and served as a union vice president from 2000 to 2007, spent more than four decades knowing DuBose personally and professionally. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, DuBose was generous in lending his time and guidance to Hakey who was starting out as a general committee officer. DuBose, even then a longtime vice president, showed Hakey the ropes in writing cases and defending members.
“He was my mentor, and he was my friend,” Hakey said. “He was always a good steward of the union. He always put the union first and the membership first.”
Hakey said DuBose was naturally inclined to put the needs of others ahead of himself, even outside of union business. In one encounter, DuBose and Hakey met a man on the street begging for money. Rather than just giving the man some spare change, DuBose insisted that they take him out to lunch.
“Tom was alway willing to listen,” Hakey said. “He was a compassionate individual. He always tried to put the membership first.”
Carl Cochran, administrator of the SMART TD Alumni Association, remembered DuBose’s active leadership in organizing a team that brought the Florida East Coast Railroad back into the UTU fold and in reaching out to help members in Cochran’s home state of Florida to cope with the devastation of the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“We asked for help from our union, and we got it for our members that lost their homes,” Cochrane said.
Born in Macon, Ga., on March 23, 1935, G. Thomas DuBose hired on as a switchman for the Central of Georgia Railway in October 1955 and was a member of Local 535 in Macon, serving as a local officer there. He was elected vice president of the Switchmens’ Union of North America (SUNA) in 1967 at the age of 32 and retained that office during the formation of the UTU in 1969.
He served four additional terms as a union vice president before being elected the UTU’s assistant president in 1987. At the Sixth UTU Convention in 1991, he defeated then-incumbent UTU President Fred Hardin’s bid for a fourth term. DuBose had unsuccessfully challenged Hardin for the presidency at the prior convention.
“We ran a grassroots campaign,” said Hakey, who managed DuBose’s winning campaign. “instead from the top-down, it was from the bottom up. The membership was desirous of a change and they wanted to see something different.”
The union faced a number of fiscal challenges at the time, Hakey said, and DuBose resolved those during his single term, leaving UTU on better financial footing than before. DuBose also was elected and served as secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO TTD.
After his 1995 retirement, the former president continued to maintain an association with the union and lent his support to a tentative national rail contract negotiated in 2011 that won approval.
“After Tom retired, he would sit at the Alumni table at the regional meetings with Kenny Menges or myself,” Cochran said. “Our members would enjoy Tom telling the history of our union.”
Former President G. Thomas DuBose is survived by his two children, Mark DuBose (Margaret), Marty Lee (KD), and three grandchildren, Matthew DuBose, Kristin Lee, and Ben DuBose.
His family thanks SMART General President Joseph Sellers, SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and all members, past and present, for their kind words and condolences during this difficult time. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that all donations be made to a charity of their choice. Due to COVID-19, the burial will be a private graveside service on September 9th. To express condolences, please visit https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/macon-ga/g-thomas-dubose-9326937.
The SMART Transportation Division offers its deepest condolences to the DuBose family, his friends and his Local 535 brothers and sisters in their time of loss.
Designed for railroad employees and spouses planning to retire within five years, the pre-retirement seminars offered by the Railroad Retirement Board are designed to familiarize attendees with the retirement benefits available to them, and also guide them through the application process. Sponsored by the Office of the Labor Member, seminars are held at a number of locations annually. Registration is required to attend.
RRB field service representatives conduct each pre-retirement seminar using a slide presentation covering the various benefits provided retired rail workers and their families. Attendees receive a program booklet of this presentation with detailed side notes and fact sheets. In addition to the program booklet, seminar attendees receive a retirement kit full of informational handouts and other helpful materials. Online and downloadable versions of items included with seminar kits are available on the RRB’s Educational Materials webpage.
Schedule and registration
Registration is required to ensure accommodations and materials for all attendees.
Unless otherwise noted, pre-retirement seminars begin at 8:30 a.m. and are held over the course of 4 hours. (Doors open for attendees 30 minutes before the seminar start time.)
Security screening is required for seminars hosted inside any Federal buildings. Bring a current, valid photo ID (issued by State/Federal Government); no weapons permitted.
Parking fee for seminars marked with *.
Attendees are encouraged to bring original records (or certified copies) of documents required in order to file a railroad retirement application (such as proof of age, marriage or military service), along with an additional copy of each item to leave with field service staff.
Please let the RRB know if you sign up for a seminar and become unable to attend.
Can’t join the RRB for a seminar, but still interested in learning about the railroad retirement program and application process? Please contact the RRB via Field Office Locatoror by calling toll-free (1-877-772-5772) for pre-retirement information or to schedule an appointment for individual retirement counseling at your local RRB field office.
Last July, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) mailed approximately 450,000 new Railroad Medicare cards with new Medicare Numbers. The new Medicare Numbers, which are unique to each person with Railroad Medicare and do not contain Social Security Number (SSNs), replace the former Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICNs). Providers can bill claims to Medicare with either a HICN or a new Medicare Number through December 31, 2019.
At this time, approximately 70% of the Railroad Medicare claims received are submitted with Medicare Numbers. Beginning January 1, 2020, all providers will be required to file claims with Medicare Numbers only.
When it’s time for a doctor’s appointment or other Medicare service, be sure to take your new card with you. Your provider’s office knows everyone should have a new Medicare Number, and they will need to keep a record of your Medicare Number so they can bill Railroad Medicare correctly.
If your provider does not have a copy of your card, they may be able to look up your information with their local Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) or with Palmetto GBA Railroad Medicare through our online provider portals. These portals give authorized providers access to claims history, eligibility and more. The portals also contain a tool that allows providers to look up a Medicare Number with the following patient information:
Date of Birth
Social Security Number
Please note that in order to use the tool to look up your Medicare Number, a provider must have your Social Security Number. If you do not want to give a provider your SSN, allow them to have a copy of your card or verbally give them your Medicare Number. If you have not used your card yet, you are making it much more difficult for your providers to file claims timely. One of the reasons for having the new cards was to give protection from identity theft. One way to do that is to be very selective when giving your personal information to a trusted entity (your doctor, insurers, etc.).
When verbally giving your Medicare Number to a provider, or to a Customer Service Advocate when you call Railroad Medicare, make sure to read it correctly. Medicare Numbers have 11 characters and contain numbers and uppercase letters only. They do not contain the letters S, L, O, I, B or Z. Characters one, four, seven, 10 and 11 will always be a number. The second, fifth, eighth and ninth characters will always be a letter. The third and sixth characters will be a letter or a number.
Sample RRB Medicare Card:
If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, your new Medicare card does not replace your plan’s identification card. You will continue to use your plan’s ID card to receive your Medicare benefits.
If you did not receive your new Medicare Card with your new Medicare Number, you can call Palmetto’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455 or the Railroad Retirement Board at 877-772-5772.
If you have questions about new Medicare cards or Medicare Numbers, please call Palmetto GBA’s Beneficiary Contact Center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. You are encouraged to sign up for email updates. To do so, click ‘Listservs’ on the top banner on the Palmetto website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me. You are also encouraged to use the beneficiary portal, MyRRMed, which is located at www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.
Rights to benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act also carry responsibilities for reporting events that may affect the payment of these benefits to the employee or to members of the employee’s family. If these events are not reported, benefit overpayments can occur that have to be repaid, sometimes with interest and penalties.
Events that can affect the payment of a Railroad Retirement annuity and result in overpayments if not promptly reported include:
entitlement to Social Security or certain other benefits, and changes in the amount of such benefit payments;
post-retirement work activity and the receipt of earnings by age and service annuitants;
post-retirement work activity, whether earnings are received or not, by disability annuitants;
the death of an annuitant;
a change in marital status;
a child leaving the care of a spouse or widow(er);
a student ceasing full-time school attendance.
The following questions and answers describe how these events affect Railroad Retirement benefits and what should be done to prevent overpayments.
How can the awarding of Social Security benefits result in a Railroad Retirement annuity overpayment?
The Tier I portion of a Railroad Retirement annuity is based on both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits acquired by an employee and figured under Social Security formulas. It approximates what Social Security would pay if railroad work were covered by Social Security. Tier I benefits are, therefore, reduced by the amount of any actual Social Security benefit paid on the basis of non-railroad employment, in order to prevent a duplication of benefits based on the same earnings.
The Tier I dual benefit reduction also applies to the annuity of an employee qualified for Social Security benefits on the earnings record of another person, such as a spouse. And, the Tier I portion of a spouse, divorced spouse or survivor annuity is reduced for any Social Security entitlement, even if the Social Security benefit is based on the spouse’s, divorced spouse’s or survivor’s own earnings. These reductions follow principles of Social Security law which limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.
If a Railroad Retirement annuitant is also awarded a Social Security benefit, in most cases a combined monthly dual benefit payment will be issued by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). The Social Security Administration determines the amount of the Social Security benefit due, and the RRB determines the amount of the Railroad Retirement annuity due. (As stated above, the Tier I portion of a Railroad Eetirement annuity is reduced by the amount of the Social Security benefit due.)
A person should notify the RRB when he or she files for Social Security benefits. If the Social Security Administration begins paying benefits directly to a Railroad Retirement annuitant without the RRB’s knowledge, a Tier I overpayment will occur. This frequently happens when a railroad employee’s spouse or widow(er) is awarded Social Security benefits not based on the employee’s earnings.
Also, annuitants who are receiving their Social Security benefits directly from the Social Security Administration must notify the RRB if their Social Security benefits are subsequently increased for any reason other than annual cost-of-living increases, such as a recomputation to reflect post-retirement earnings. As such recomputations are usually retroactive, they can result in substantial Tier I overpayments.
While Social Security benefit information is provided to the RRB as a result of routine information exchanges between the RRB and the Social Security Administration, it will generally not be provided in time to avoid such a benefit overpayment.
What other types of benefit payments, besides Social Security benefits, require dual benefit reductions in a Railroad Retirement annuity?
For employees first eligible for a Railroad Retirement annuity and a federal, state or local government pension after 1985, there may be a reduction in Tier I for receipt of a public pension based, in part or in whole, on employment not covered by Social Security or Railroad Retirement after 1956. This may also apply to certain other payments not covered by Social Security, such as payments from a non-profit organization or from a foreign government or a foreign employer. However, it does not include military service pensions, payments by the Department of Veterans Affairs or certain benefits payable by a foreign government as a result of a totalization agreement between that government and the United States.
The Tier I portion of a spouse or widow(er)’s annuity may also be reduced for receipt of any federal, state or local government pension separately payable to the spouse or widow(er) based on her or his own earnings. The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the public pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment. In addition, most military service pensions and payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs will not cause a reduction. Pensions paid by a foreign government or interstate instrumentality will also not cause a reduction.
If an employee is receiving a disability annuity, Tier I benefits for the employee and spouse may, under certain circumstances, be reduced for receipt of workers’ compensation or public disability benefits.
If annuitants become entitled to any of the above payments, they should promptly notify the RRB. If there is any question as to whether a payment requires a reduction in an annuity, an RRB field office should be contacted.
Can post-retirement work activity and earnings cause Railroad Retirement overpayments?
Unreported post-retirement work activity and earnings in non-railroad employment (including self-employment) are a major cause of overpayments in Railroad Retirement annuities. Like Social Security benefits, Railroad Retirement Tier I benefits paid to employees and spouses, plus Tier I and Tier II benefits paid to survivors, are subject to deductions if post-retirement earnings exceed certain exempt amounts, which increase annually. (For information on how post-retirement work activity and earnings affect disability annuitants, please see Question 4.)
These earnings deductions do not apply to those who have attained full Social Security retirement age. Under the Social Security Act, full retirement age for employees and spouses is age 66 for those born from 1943 through 1954 and gradually increases to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later. Full retirement age for survivor annuitants ranges from age 66 for those born from 1945 through 1956 to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later.
For those under full retirement age throughout 2019, the exempt earnings amount is $17,640. For beneficiaries attaining full retirement age in 2019, the exempt earnings amount is $46,920 for the months before the month full retirement age is attained. Prior to the calendar year in which full retirement age is attained, the earnings deduction is $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings over the exempt amount. For those attaining full retirement age during a calendar year, the deduction is $1 for every $3 of earnings over the exempt amount in the months before the month full retirement age is attained.
Annuitants who work after retirement and expect that their earnings for a year will be more than the annual exempt amount must promptly notify the nearest RRB field office and furnish an estimate of their expected earnings. This way their annuities can be adjusted to take the excess earnings into consideration and prevent an overpayment. Annuitants whose original estimate changes significantly during the year, either upwards or downwards, should also notify the RRB.
Retired employees and spouses, regardless of age, who work for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer are also subject to an earnings deduction in their Tier II and Railroad Retirement supplemental annuity benefits, if applicable, of $1 for every $2 in earnings up to a maximum reduction of the lesser of 50 percent of the earnings or Tier II and supplemental benefits combined. This earnings restriction does not change from year to year and does not allow for an exempt amount. Retired employees and spouses should therefore promptly notify the RRB if they return to employment for their last pre-retirement non-railroad employer or if the amount of their earnings from such employment changes.
A spouse benefit is subject to reductions not only for the spouse’s earnings, but also for the earnings of the employee, regardless of whether the earnings are from service for the last pre-retirement non-railroad employer or any other post-retirement employment. An annuity paid to a divorced spouse may continue despite the employee’s work activity. However, the employee’s non-railroad earnings over the annual earnings exempt amount may reduce a divorced spouse benefit.
How do post-retirement work activity and earnings affect disability annuities?
Any work performed by a disabled annuitant — whether for payment or not — may be considered an indication of recovery from disability and therefore must be reported promptly to avoid potential overpayments.
In addition, special restrictions limiting earnings to $950 per month in 2019, exclusive of disability-related work expenses, apply to disabled Railroad Retirement employee annuitants. These disability work restrictions apply until the disabled employee annuitant attains full retirement age which, as stated earlier, ranges from age 66 to age 67, depending on the year of birth. These work restrictions apply even if the annuitant has 30 years of railroad service. Also, a disabled employee annuitant who works for his or her last pre-retirement non-railroad employer would be subject to the additional earnings deduction that applies in these cases.
What effect does railroad work have on an annuity?
No Railroad Retirement annuity is payable for any month in which an employee, spouse or survivor annuitant performs compensated service for a railroad or railroad union. This includes local lodge compensation for more than $24.99 in a calendar month, and work by a local lodge or division secretary collecting insurance premiums, regardless of the amount of salary.
What should be done when a Railroad Retirement annuitant dies?
The RRB should be notified immediately upon the death of any retirement or survivor annuitant. Payment of a Railroad Retirement annuity stops upon an annuitant’s death and the annuity is not payable for any day in the month of death. This is true regardless of how late in the month death occurs and there is no provision for prorating such a payment. Any payments received after the annuitant’s death must be returned. The sooner the RRB is notified, the less chance there is of payments continuing and an overpayment accruing. The RRB would also determine whether any survivor benefits due are payable by the RRB or the Social Security Administration.
What are some other events that can affect payments to auxiliary beneficiaries, such as spouses, divorced spouses and widow(er)s?
A spouse or divorced spouse must immediately notify the RRB if the railroad employee upon whose service the annuity is based dies. A spouse must notify the RRB if her or his marriage to the railroad employee ends in divorce or annulment and a widow(er) or divorced spouse must notify the RRB if she or he remarries.
Also, benefits paid to spouses, widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses that are based on the beneficiary caring for the employee’s unmarried child are normally terminated by the RRB when the child attains age 18 (age 16 for a surviving divorced spouse) or if a disabled child over age 18 (age 16 for a surviving divorced spouse) recovers from the disability. Therefore, the RRB must be notified if the child leaves the beneficiary’s care or marries.
Benefits are also payable to an unmarried child age 18 in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school or in approved home schooling until the student attains age 19 or the end of the school term in progress when the student attains age 19. (In most cases where a student attains age 19 during the school term, benefits are limited to the two months following the month age 19 is attained.) These benefits will be terminated earlier if the student marries, graduates or ceases full-time attendance. Therefore, the RRB must be notified promptly to prevent an overpayment.
Can an annuitant contest a decision that he or she has been overpaid?
Annuitants who believe a decision regarding a benefit overpayment is incorrect may ask for reconsideration and/or waiver of the overpayment. If not satisfied with the result of the initial review, the annuitant may appeal to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals. Further appeals can be carried to the three-member board itself and beyond the board to federal courts.
Annuitants are told about these appeal rights any time a decision is made regarding a benefit overpayment.
How can an annuitant find out if an event might affect his or her Railroad Retirement benefit payments?
Individuals should contact an RRB field office to determine if an event will affect their benefit payments. In any situation, the best rule is “If in doubt, report.” A Field Office Locator at RRB.gov provides easy access to every field office webpage where the street address and other service information is posted, as well as the option to email an office directly using the feature labeled Send a Secure Message. The agency’s toll-free number, 1-877-772-5772, is equipped with an automated menu offering a variety of service options, including being transferred to an office to speak with a representative, leave a message or find the address of a local field office. The agency also maintains a TTY number, 312-751-4701, to accommodate those with hearing or speech impairments. Most RRB offices are open to the public on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when offices are open from 9 a.m. to noon. RRB offices are closed on federal holidays.
Disability Fund Shows Strong Improvement—Twenty Years
The Social Security Board of Trustees released its annual report on the long-term financial status of the Social Security trust funds. The combined asset reserves of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASI and DI) trust funds are projected to become depleted in 2035, one year later than projected last year, with 80% of benefits payable at that time.
The OASI trust fund is projected to become depleted in 2034, the same as last year’s estimate, with 77% of benefits payable at that time. The DI trust fund is estimated to become depleted in 2052, extended 20 years from last year’s estimate of 2032, with 91% of benefits still payable.
In the 2019 Annual Report to Congress, the trustees announced:
The asset reserves of the combined OASI and DI trust funds increased by $3 billion in 2018 to a total of $2.895 trillion.
The total annual cost of the program is projected to exceed total annual income, for the first time since 1982, in 2020 and remain higher throughout the 75-year projection period. As a result, asset reserves are expected to decline during 2020. Social Security’s cost has exceeded its non-interest income since 2010.
The year when the combined trust fund reserves are projected to become depleted, if Congress does not act before then, is 2035 – gaining one year from last year’s projection. At that time, there would be sufficient income coming in to pay 80% of scheduled benefits.
“The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them,” said Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of Social Security. “The large change in the reserve depletion date for the DI fund is mainly due to continuing favorable trends in the disability program. Disability applications have been declining since 2010, and the number of disabled-worker beneficiaries receiving payments has been falling since 2014.”
Other highlights of the trustees’ report include:
Total income, including interest, to the combined OASI and DI trust funds amounted to just over $1 trillion in 2018. ($885 billion from net payroll tax contributions, $35 billion from taxation of benefits and $83 billion in interest)
Total expenditures from the combined OASI and DI trust funds amounted to $1 trillion in 2018.
Social Security paid benefits of nearly $989 billion in calendar year 2018. There were about 63 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year.
The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.78% of taxable payroll – lower than the 2.84% projected in last year’s report.
During 2018, an estimated 176 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
The cost of $6.7 billion to administer the Social Security program in 2018 was a very low 0.7% of total expenditures.
The combined trust fund asset reserves earned interest at an effective annual rate of 2.9% in 2018.
The board of trustees usually comprises six members. Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Steven T. Mnuchin, secretary of the treasury and managing trustee; Nancy A. Berryhill, acting commissioner of Social Security; Alex M. Azar II, secretary of health and human services; and R. Alexander Acosta, secretary of labor. The two public trustee positions are currently vacant.
If you are thinking of retiring within the next five years, you may want to consider attending a pre-retirement seminar hosted by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).
Designed for railroad employees and spouses planning to retire, the pre-retirement seminars the RRB offers familiarize attendees with the retirement benefits available to them, and also guide them through the application process. Sponsored by the Office of the Labor Member, seminars are held at a number of locations annually.
RRB field service representatives conduct each pre-retirement seminar using a PowerPoint slide presentation covering the various benefits provided to retired rail workers and their families. Attendees receive a program booklet of this presentation with detailed side notes and fact sheets. In addition to the program booklet, seminar attendees receive a retirement kit full of informational handouts and other helpful materials. Online and downloadable versions of items included with seminar kits are available on the RRB’s educational materials webpage.
Registration is required to ensure accommodations and materials for all attendees.
Unless otherwise noted, pre-retirement seminars begin at 8:30 a.m. and are held over the course of four hours. (Doors open for attendees 30 minutes before the seminar start time.)
Security screening is required for seminars hosted inside any federal buildings. Bring a current, valid photo ID (issued by state or federal government); no weapons are permitted.
Parking fee for seminars marked with *.
Attendees are encouraged to bring original records (or certified copies) of documents required in order to file a Railroad Retirement application (such as proof of age, marriage or military service), along with an additional copy of each item to leave with field service staff.
Please inform the RRB if you sign up for a seminar and become unable to attend.
Can’t attend a seminar, but still interested in learning about the Railroad Retirement program and application process? Please contact the RRB via the Field Office Locator or by calling toll-free (1-877-772-5772) for pre-retirement information or to schedule an appointment for individual retirement counseling at your local RRB field office.
Here are the scheduled dates:
March 22, 2019: George H. Fallon Federal Building, 31 Hopkins Plaza, Room G-33 (ground level), Baltimore, Maryland*
March 22, 2019: West Covina Library, 1601 West Covina Parkway, West Covina, California* (9 a.m. start time)
March 29, 2019: Birmingham/Jefferson Convention Complex, 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard North, East Meeting Rooms D/E, Birmingham, Alabama*
March 29, 2019: Maidu Community Center, 1550 Maidu Drive, Roseville, California
April 5, 2019: Country Inn & Suites, 4500 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta, Georgia
April 5, 2019: Hilton Garden Inn (Richmond Airport), 441 International Center Drive, Sandston, Virginia
April 12, 2019: Ronald V Dellums Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street – North Tower, 5th Floor (Room H), Oakland, California*
April 12, 2019: Drury Inn & Suites, St Louis Forest Park, 2111 Sulphur Avenue, St Louis, Missouri