Archive for the ‘Carl’s Corner’ Category

Palmetto GBA: Let’s talk about mental health during the pandemic

Mental health is one of those things that we don’t want to talk about too much. With so much still unknown about the coronavirus, many people are still depressed, anxious, scared and stressed. We’ve watched how the world has changed during the pandemic, with millions of people losing their lives, and there is still a stigma related to the virus. Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. In the beginning, the coronavirus was thought to only affect the elderly population, but now, a year later, we know that to be untrue. Isolation, food and supply shortages were all things we dealt with during the pandemic.

Now the world is starting to open back up after more than a year of being isolated from families and friends. Many people are asking, “How do we ever get back to being normal?” One thing we can do is get vaccinated. Vaccines are now available to all people over the age of 12, and they are reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths and severe illnesses. In fact, 79.5% of those fully vaccinated are people 65 years or older. The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all Medicare beneficiaries.

Even though the pandemic is not over, (with the Delta variant a new concern) it is under better control. Americans are starting to travel again, see family and attend events with larger crowds. While these are good things, some of this news can cause many people to feel overwhelmed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “It is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Below are ways that you can help yourself, others and your community manage stress:

  • Turn the TV off. Reduce exposure to news stories, which can trigger stress.
  • Eat healthy, go for a walk and get plenty of sleep.
  • Find a new hobby or make time to do an old one.
  • Connect with others either in person or by phone.
  • Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. (CDC, 2021)

While we all wait for the World Health Organization to declare the COVID-19 pandemic over, we must still take proper precautions to ensure safety. If you are unvaccinated, according the CDC, you will still need to wear your mask. Seeing others not wearing a mask may also be stressful because you can’t be sure they are vaccinated.

If you are having trouble managing your feelings or not feeling like yourself, see your doctor or other approved healthcare provider and tell them how you are feeling. Don’t wait until your next annual wellness visit. Even if you don’t feel up to (or ready to face) getting out for a visit, many doctors today are offering telehealth visits. Some Medicare benefits you may not know of include:

  • Yearly depression screening
  • Diagnostic testing
  • Family counseling
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Individual and group psychotherapy
  • Medication management
  • Annual wellness visit
  • Caregiver-focused behavioral health risk assessment of their own behavior and health risks, which benefits the patient
  • Cognitive assessment and care planning
  • Drug therapy
  • Drug withdrawal treatment and other substance use disorder treatments
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Initial Preventive Physical Examination (IPPE) to review medical and social health history and provide preventive services education

For more information about your Medicare benefits and how they can help you get help when you’re feeling down, 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 also encouraged to sign up for Palmetto’s email updates. To do so, click “Email Updates” on the top banner on the Palmetto GBA website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me to start the process.

If you’d like to read more about the CDC and its information on coping with stress related to the coronavirus, please visit their website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html


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.

RRB: Unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees

The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) administers the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA), which provides two kinds of benefits for qualified railroaders: unemployment benefits for those who become unemployed but are ready, willing and able to work; and sickness benefits for those who are unable to work because of sickness or injury. Sickness benefits are also payable to female rail workers for periods of time when they are unable to work because of health conditions related to pregnancy, miscarriage or childbirth. A new benefit year begins each July 1.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements and how to claim them. At the time this news release was issued, unemployment and sickness benefit flexibilities were in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because these flexibilities are temporary and may change, they are not covered in this release. Visit RRB.gov/coronavirus for up-to-date information.

1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2021?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $4,137.50 in calendar year 2020, counting no more than $1,655 for any one month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2020 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2020.

Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2020 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2021, may be eligible for extended benefits. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have railroad earnings of at least $4,275 in 2021, not counting earnings of more than $1,710 in any one month.

In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.

To be eligible for accelerated benefits, a claimant must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and, when claiming sickness benefits, be under age 65.

2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2021?

Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $82. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $820 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to Tier I Railroad Retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.

Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 5.7% through September 30, 2021. Consequently, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $773.26. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to Tier I payroll taxes of 7.65% will be $714.11 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.

(The temporary benefits created under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Continued Assistance to Rail Workers Act of 2020 (CARWA), and American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are not subject to sequestration. Under CARWA, beginning January 3, 2021, all benefits under the RUIA (including normal unemployment and sickness benefits as well as normal extended unemployment and sickness benefits) will be exempt from sequestration until 30 days after the Presidential declaration of a national emergency concerning COVID-19 terminates. The RRB will publish updated information regarding the status of the sequestration of RUIA benefits when the end date of the Presidential declaration of a national emergency is known.)

3. How long are these benefits payable?

Normal unemployment or sickness benefits are each payable for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. The total amount of each kind of benefit which may be paid in the new benefit year cannot exceed the employee’s railroad earnings in calendar year 2020, counting earnings up to $2,138 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during seven consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).

4. What is the waiting period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?

There is a seven-day waiting period requirement, prior to any benefits becoming payable under the RUIA. During the first 14-day claim period, benefits are payable for every day claimed in excess of seven days. Subsequent claims are paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in each 14-day registration period. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. If an employee has at least five days of unemployment or five days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits in order to satisfy the waiting period for the current benefit year. Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one seven-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.

5. Are there special waiting period requirements if unemployment is due to a strike?

If a worker is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.

If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.

While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.

6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?

No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.

7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?

Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.

8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?

If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and non-railroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2021, earnings of $1,655 or more in a claim period will disqualify a claim for unemployment benefits, even if there are more than 4 days of unemployment claimed. This amount corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.

Earnings of $15 or less per day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine if the work affects benefits.

9. How does a person apply for and claim unemployment benefits?

Employees can apply for and claim unemployment benefits online or by mail. Individuals who have established an account through myRRB at RRB.gov can log in and file their applications and their biweekly claims online. Employees who need to create an account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov. Employees are encouraged to establish their accounts while still working to expedite the filing process for future unemployment benefits, and for access to other online services.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an Application for Unemployment Benefits (Form UI-1) from RRB.gov, their labor organization or railroad employer. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and must be filed within 30 days from the date the claimant became unemployed, or the first day for which he or she wishes to claim benefits. Benefits may be lost if the application is filed late. Claimants filing a late unemployment application or claim should include a signed statement explaining why they are unable to meet the required time frame.

Persons can find the address of the RRB office serving his or her area by visiting RRB.gov and clicking on Field Office Locator, or by calling the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 and selecting the appropriate option from the automated menu.

The local RRB field office reviews the completed application, whether it was submitted online or by mail, and notifies the claimant’s current railroad employer, and base-year employer, if different. The employer has the right to provide information about the benefit application.

After processing the application, biweekly claim forms are provided to the claimant for as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. If a claimant filed an online application, his or her claim forms are only made available online. If a claimant filed a paper application, his or her first claim form is both available online and mailed to him or her. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both an online and a paper claim form for the same period(s). Claim forms should be signed and sent (online or by mail) on or after the last day of the claim. The completed claim must be received by the RRB within 15 days of the end of the claim period, or within 15 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later.

Only one application needs to be filed during a benefit year, even if a claimant becomes unemployed more than once. However, in the case of multiple claim periods, a claimant must request a claim form from the RRB within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claim forms may then be filed online or by mail.

10.  How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?

An Application for Sickness Benefits (Form SI-1a) can be obtained from RRB.gov, a railroad labor organization, or a railroad employer. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail. However, subsequent claims may be mailed, or completed online by employees who have established a myRRB account at RRB.gov.

An application including a doctor’s Statement of Sickness (Form SI-1b – included with form SI-1a) is required at the beginning of each period of continuing sickness for which benefits are claimed. Claimants should make a special effort to have the doctor’s statement of sickness completed promptly since claims cannot be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application for sickness benefits on hand, and that family members know where the form is kept and how to use it. If an employee becomes unable to work because of sickness or injury, the employee should complete the application and have his or her doctor complete the attached statement of sickness. If a claimant receives sickness benefits for an injury or illness for which he or she is paid damages, it is important to be aware that the RRB is entitled to reimbursement of either the amount of the benefits paid for the injury or illness or the net amount of the settlement, after deducting the claimant’s gross medical, hospital and legal expenses, whichever is less.

If the employee is too sick to complete the application, someone else may complete it for him or her. In such cases, a family member should also complete a Statement of Authority to Act for Employee (Form SI-10 included with form SI-1a), which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago within 10 days from when the employee became sick or injured. However, applications received after 10 days but within 30 days of the first day for which an employee wishes to claim benefits are generally considered timely filed if there is a good reason for the delay. (Employees cannot currently file their sickness applications online.) Upon receipt, the RRB will process the application and determine if the employee is eligible for sickness benefits.

After processing the application and statement of sickness, the RRB makes the first biweekly claim form available online (for employees with myRRB accounts) and mails a paper form to the employee as long as he or she is eligible for benefits and remains unable to work due to illness or injury. Those choosing to file the paper claim received by mail should return the completed form to RRB headquarters for processing. If the claimant returns the paper claim, future claims will be mailed to him or her. If the claimant files the claim online, all subsequent claim forms will only be made available online, and will no longer be mailed. Claimants must not file both online and paper claim forms for the same claim period(s). Employees who need to create a myRRB account should visit RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled Sign in with login.gov.

Completed claim forms must be received at the RRB within 30 days of the last day of the claim period, or within 30 days of the date the claim form was made available online or mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim form is filed late. Claimants filing a late sickness application or claim form should include a signed statement explaining why they were unable to meet the required time frame.

Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications for sickness benefits must be mailed to the RRB. Statements of sickness may be mailed with the sickness application or faxed directly from the doctor’s office to the RRB at 312-751-7185. Faxes must include a cover sheet from the doctor’s office. Also, in order to prevent a delay in processing applications or claims, employees are advised against sending any sickness benefit forms to the RRB in Chicago via certified mail.

11. Is a claimant’s employer notified each time a biweekly claim for unemployment or sickness benefits is filed?

The RUIA requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. Benefits may not be paid at this time but the employee will receive a notice and have the right to appeal. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

The RRB also conducts checks with other Ffederal agencies and all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to detect fraudulent benefit claims, and it checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.

12. How long does it take to receive payment?

Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan, if a claimant files an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, his or her benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

If a claimant does not receive a decision notice or payment within the specified time period, he or she may expect an explanation for the delay and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others, especially if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations, or under special circumstances such as the current pandemic.

Claimants who think an RRB office made the wrong decision about their benefits have the right to ask for review and to appeal. They will be notified of these rights each time an unfavorable decision is made on their claims.

13. How are payments made?

Railroad unemployment and sickness insurance benefits are paid by direct deposit to an employee’s bank, savings and loan, credit union or other financial institution. New applicants for unemployment and sickness benefits will be asked to provide information needed for direct deposit enrollment.

14. How can claimants get more information on their railroad unemployment or sickness claims?

Claimants with myRRB accounts can view their individual railroad unemployment and sickness insurance account statement by using the View RUIA Account service. This statement displays the type and amount of the claimant’s last five benefit payments, the claim period for which the payments were made, and the dates that the payments were approved. Individuals can also confirm the RRB’s receipt of applications and claims.

In addition, claimants can call the agency toll-free at 1-877-772-5772 to access information about the status of unemployment and sickness claims or payments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Individuals with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who need information about their specific claims and benefit payments, can send a secure e-mail to their local office by accessing the Field Office Locator at RRB.gov and clicking on the link at the bottom of their local office’s page. If a customer needs to talk to an RRB employee, they can call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772). However, customers are asked to be patient because of the increase in call volume due to the closure to the public of RRB offices during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Palmetto GBA: Performing a cognitive assessment

Do you or a loved one have any of the following symptoms?

It’s easy to forget where you put your car keys once in a while. But if you or a loved one have any of the following problems, please read further:

  • Trouble remembering
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Feeling overwhelmed making decisions
  • Getting confused easily or frequently
  • Becoming very impulsive or showing poor judgment

You might think your memory has “slipped,” but it might be more than that. Medicare offers a service to test your cognitive functioning. It’s called a cognitive assessment, and it can be performed when you see your provider for a visit. Many times, it is performed when you do your yearly wellness visit, but it can be performed at any time you have a concern.

It’s really helpful if you bring someone with you to that visit, such as a friend, spouse or caregiver, so that they can provide answers to questions you might not know the answers to. During the visit, your doctor will do the following:

  1. Perform a cognitive exam.
  2. Review your medical history and your medication. Sometimes medications can have side effects that may make you appear to have a cognitive impairment.
  3. Develop a plan of care, if one is needed.
  4. Make a referral to a specialist, if one is needed.
  5. Talk to you about community resources (these can include adult daycare, rehabilitation services, and more).

When this service is performed, the Part B deductible and coinsurance apply.

Cognitive impairment doesn’t always present in the ways noted above. It can also show up as depression, anxiety, apathy or irritation/aggression. If you see these in yourself or others, please make an appointment with your doctor. Having mild cognitive impairment can increase your risk of developing dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. Per the Mayo Clinic, “some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.” Be the one who gets better. Call your doctor today.

If you need help locating a doctor, you can call our 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 invited to use Palmetto’s free internet portal, MyRRMed, to access claim status, historical Medicare Summary Notices, and review any individuals you have authorized to have access to your private medical information. You can visit MyRRMed at www.PalmettoGBA.com/MyRRMed.

We also encourage you to visit the Mayo Clinic website, which discusses mild cognitive impairment (MCI) here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-20354578.

You can also access the Alzheimer’s Association website, which discusses cognitive assessment services, by visiting here: https://www.alz.org/professionals/health-systems-clinicians/cognitive-assessment.


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.

RRB: Railroad Retirement survivor benefits

Monthly benefits may be payable under the Railroad Retirement Act to the surviving widow(er), children, and certain other dependents of a railroad employee if the employee was “insured” under that Act at the time of death. Lump-sum death benefits may also be payable to qualified survivors in some cases.

The following questions and answers describe the survivor benefits payable by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) and the eligibility requirements for these benefits.

  1. What are the general service requirements for Railroad Retirement survivor benefits?

With the exception of one type of lump-sum death benefit, eligibility for survivor benefits depends on whether or not a deceased employee was “insured” under the Railroad Retirement Act. An employee is insured if he or she has at least 120 months (10 years) of railroad service, or 60 months (5 years) performed after 1995, and a “current connection” with the railroad industry as of the month the annuity begins or the month of death, whichever occurs first.

  1. How is a “current connection” determined under the Railroad Retirement Act?

Generally, an employee who worked for a railroad in at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the month his or her Railroad Retirement annuity begins will meet the current connection requirement. If an employee dies 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.

If an employee does not qualify on this basis, but has 12 months of 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.

Full- or part-time work for a nonrailroad employer in the interval between the end of the last 30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the beginning date of an employee’s annuity or the month of death, if earlier, can break a current connection.

Self-employment in an unincorporated business will not break a current connection; however, self-employment can break a current connection if the business is incorporated. All self-employment will be reviewed to determine if it meets the RRA’s standards for maintaining a current connection.

Working for certain U.S. government agencies — Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board, Surface Transportation Board, Transportation Security Administration, National Mediation Board or the Railroad Retirement Board — will not break a current connection. State employment with the Alaska Railroad, so 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.

A current connection can also be maintained, for purposes of survivor annuities, if the employee completed 25 years of railroad service, was involuntarily terminated without fault from his or her last job in the rail industry, and did not thereafter decline an offer of employment in the same class or craft in the rail industry, regardless of the distance to the new position.

A current connection determination is made when an employee files for a Railroad Retirement annuity. If an employee dies before applying for an annuity, it is made when an applicant files for a survivor annuity. 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.

  1. What if these service requirements are not met?

If a deceased employee did not have an insured status, jurisdiction of any survivor benefits payable is transferred to the Social Security Administration and survivor benefits are paid by that agency instead of the RRB. Regardless of which agency has jurisdiction, the deceased employee’s Railroad Retirement and Social Security credits will be combined for benefit computation purposes.

  1. What are the age and other eligibility requirements for widow(er)s who haven’t remarried?

Widow(er)s’ benefits are payable at age 60 or over. They are also payable at any age if the widow(er) is caring for an unmarried child of the deceased employee under age 18 or a disabled child of any age who became permanently disabled before age 22. Widow(er)s’ benefits are also payable at ages 50-59 if the widow(er) is totally disabled and unable to work in any regular employment. The disability must have begun within seven years after the employee’s death or within seven years after the termination of an annuity based on caring for a child of the deceased employee. In most cases, a five-month waiting period is required after the onset of disability before disability payments can begin.

Generally, the widow(er) must have been married to the employee for at least nine months prior to death, unless she or he was the natural or adoptive parent of their child, the employee’s death was accidental or while on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, the widow(er) was potentially entitled to certain Railroad Retirement or Social Security benefits in the month before the month of marriage, or the marriage was postponed due to state restrictions on the employee’s prior marriage and divorce due to mental incompetence or similar incapacity.

  1. Can surviving divorced spouses and remarried widow(er)s also qualify for benefits?

Survivor benefits may be payable to a surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er). Benefits are limited to the amount Social Security would pay (Tier I only) and therefore are less than the amount of the survivor annuity otherwise payable (Tier I and Tier II) by the RRB. A Tier II benefit is not provided for a surviving divorced spouse or a remarried widow(er).

A surviving divorced spouse may qualify if she or he was married to the employee for at least 10 years immediately before the date the divorce became final, and is age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled). A surviving divorced spouse who is unmarried can qualify at any age if caring for the employee’s child and the child is under age 16 or disabled, in which case the 10-year marriage requirement does not apply.

A widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 60, or a disabled widow(er) or disabled surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 50 may also receive the portion of a survivor annuity equivalent to a Social Security benefit (Tier I); however, remarriage prior to age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) would not prevent eligibility if that remarriage ended. Such Social Security level benefits may also be paid to a younger widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse caring for the employee’s child who is under age 16 or disabled, if the remarriage is to a person entitled to Railroad Retirement or Social Security benefits, or the remarriage ends.

  1. When are survivor benefits payable to children and other dependents?

Monthly survivor benefits are payable to an unmarried child under age 18, and to an unmarried child age 18 in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school, or in approved homeschooling, 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. An unmarried disabled child over age 18 may qualify if the child became totally disabled before age 22. An unmarried dependent grandchild meeting any of the requirements described above for a child may also qualify if both the grandchild’s parents are deceased or found disabled by the Social Security Administration.

Monthly survivor benefits are also payable to a parent at age 60 who was dependent on the employee for at least half of the parent’s support. If the employee was also survived by a widow(er), surviving divorced spouse or child who could ever qualify for an annuity, the parent’s annuity is limited to the amount that Social Security would pay (Tier I).

  1. How are Railroad Retirement widow(er)s’ benefits computed?

The Tier I amount of a two-tier survivor benefit is based on the deceased employee’s combined Railroad Retirement and Social Security earnings credits, and is computed using Social Security formulas. In general, the survivor Tier I amount is equal to the amount of survivor benefits that would have been payable under Social Security.

In December 2001, legislation established an “initial minimum amount” which yields, in effect, a widow(er)’s Tier II benefit equal to the Tier II benefit the employee would have received at the time of the award of the widow(er)’s annuity, minus any applicable age reduction.

However, such a Tier II benefit will not receive annual cost-of-living increases until such time as the widow(er)’s annuity, as computed under prior law with all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable, exceeds the widow(er)’s annuity as computed under the initial minimum amount formula.

A widow(er) who received a spouse annuity from the RRB is guaranteed that the amount of any widow(er)’s benefit payable will never be less than the annuity she or he was receiving as a spouse in the month before the employee died.

The average annuity awarded to widow(er)s in fiscal year 2020, excluding remarried widow(er)s and surviving divorced spouses, was $2,333 a month. Children received $1,549 a month, on average. Total family benefits for widow(er)s with children averaged $4,395 a month. The average annuity awarded to remarried widow(er)s or surviving divorced spouses in fiscal year 2020 was $1,301 a month.

  1. Are survivor benefits subject to any reduction for early retirement or disability retirement?

A widow(er), surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er) whose annuity begins at full retirement age or later receives the full Tier I amount unless the deceased employee received an annuity that was reduced for early retirement. The eligibility age for a full widow(er)’s annuity is gradually rising to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later, the same as under Social Security. The maximum age reduction is also rising to 20.36%, depending on the widow(er)’s date of birth. For a surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er), the maximum age reduction is 28.5%. For a disabled widow(er), disabled surviving divorced spouse or disabled remarried widow(er), the maximum reduction is also 28.5%, even if the annuity begins at age 50.

  1. Are these benefits subject to offset for the receipt of other benefits?

Under the Railroad Retirement Act, the Tier I portion of a survivor annuity is subject to reduction if any Social Security benefits are also payable, even if the Social Security benefit is based on the survivor’s own earnings. This reduction follows the principles of Social Security law which, in effect, limit payment to the highest of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time.

The Tier I portion of a widow(er)’s annuity may also be reduced for the receipt of certain federal, state or local government pension based on the widow(er)’s 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. However, 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.

For those subject to the public pension reduction, the Tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the public pension.

A survivor annuitant should notify the RRB promptly if she or he becomes entitled to any such benefits.

  1.   What if a widow(er) was also a railroad employee and is eligible for a Railroad Retirement employee annuity as well as monthly survivor benefits?

If the widow(er) is entitled to a Railroad Retirement employee annuity and neither the widow(er) nor the deceased employee had any railroad service before 1975, the survivor annuity (Tier I and Tier II) payable to the widow(er) is reduced by the total amount of the widow(er)’s own employee annuity.

If a widow or dependent widower is also a railroad employee annuitant, and either the widow(er) or the deceased employee had at least 120 months of railroad service before 1975, the Tier I reduction may, under certain circumstances, be partially restored in the survivor Tier II amount.

If either the deceased employee or the widow(er) had some railroad service before 1975 but less than 120 months of service, the widow(er)’s own employee annuity and the Tier II portion of the survivor annuity would be payable to the widow(er). The Tier I portion of the survivor annuity would be payable only to the extent that it exceeds the Tier I portion of the widow(er)’s own employee annuity.

  1. What types of lump-sum death benefits are payable under the Railroad Retirement Act?

A lump-sum death benefit is payable to certain survivors of an employee with 10 or more years of railroad service, or less than 10 years if at least five years were after 1995, and had a current connection with the railroad industry if there is no survivor immediately eligible for a monthly annuity upon the employee’s death.

If the employee did not have 10 years of service before 1975, the lump sum is limited to $255 and is payable only to the widow(er) living in the same household as the employee at the time of the employee’s death.

If the employee had less than 10 years of service but had five years after 1995, he or she must have met Social Security’s insured status requirements for the lump sum to be payable.

If the employee had 10 years of service before 1975, the lump sum is payable to the living-with widow(er). If there is no such widow(er), the lump sum may be paid to the funeral home or the payer of the funeral expenses. These lump sums averaged $1,030 in fiscal year 2020.

If a widow(er) is eligible for monthly benefits at the time of the employee’s death, but the widow(er) had excess earnings deductions which prevented annuity payments or for any other reason did not receive monthly benefits in the 12-month period beginning with the month of the employee’s death totaling at least as much as the lump sum, the difference between the lump-sum benefit and monthly benefits actually paid, if any, is payable in the form of a deferred lump-sum benefit.

The average for all types of lump sums was $933 in fiscal year 2020.

The Railroad Retirement system also provides, under certain conditions, a residual lump-sum death benefit which ensures that a railroad family receives at least as much in benefits as the employee paid in Railroad Retirement taxes before 1975. This benefit is, in effect, a refund of an employee’s pre-1975 Railroad Retirement taxes, after subtraction of any benefits previously paid on the basis of the employee’s service. This benefit is seldom payable.

  1.  How does a person get an estimate of, or apply for, survivor benefits?

As all of the RRB’s 53 field offices are physically closed to the public until further notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best way to obtain a survivor’s annuity estimate is to call the agency’s toll-free number (1-877-772-5772).

Under normal circumstances, applications for survivor benefits are generally filed at one of the RRB’s field offices, with an RRB representative at one of the office’s Customer OutReach Program (CORP) service locations, or by telephone and mail; however, while RRB field offices remain physically closed, applications can be filed solely by telephone and mail by first calling 1-877-772-5772. It is important to note that callers may experience lengthy wait times due to increased call volume caused by COVID-19-related issues.

RRB Labor Member Bragg announces online pre-retirement seminar is live

RRB Labor Member Press Release:

RRB Labor Member
John Bragg

The Office of the Labor Member is pleased to announce that our 2021 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 critical 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 are currently unable to hold in-person events because of COVID-19.

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.

RRB: Dual benefit payments Q&A

The payment of a Railroad Retirement annuity can be affected by entitlement to Social Security benefits, as well as certain other government benefits. Such dual entitlement, if not reported to the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), can result in benefit overpayments that have to be repaid, sometimes with interest and penalties. The following questions and answers describe how the RRB adjusts Railroad Retirement benefits for annuitants who are also eligible for Social Security benefits and/or other benefit payments.

1. How are dual benefits paid to persons entitled to both Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits?

If a Railroad Retirement annuitant is also awarded a Social Security benefit, the Social Security Administration determines the amount of the Social Security benefit due, but a combined monthly dual benefit payment should, in most cases, be issued by the RRB after the Railroad Retirement annuity has been reduced by the amount of the Social Security benefit.

2. Why is a Railroad Retirement annuity reduced when a Social Security benefit is also payable?

The Tier I portion of a Railroad Retirement annuity is based on both the Railroad Retirement and Social Security earnings credits acquired by an employee and computed 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 nonrailroad employment, in order to prevent a duplication of benefits based on Social Security-covered earnings.

In addition, following principles of Social Security law which limit payment to the higher of any two or more benefits payable to an individual at one time, the Tier I dual benefit reduction applies to an annuity even if the Social Security benefit is based on the earnings record of someone other than the railroad employee, such as a spouse or former spouse. An annuitant is required to advise the RRB if any benefits are received directly from the Social Security Administration or if those benefits increase (other than for a cost-of-living increase) to avoid a Railroad Retirement benefit overpayment.

The Tier II portion of a Railroad Retirement annuity is based on the railroad employee’s railroad service and earnings alone and is computed under a separate formula. It is not reduced for entitlement to a Social Security benefit.

3. Are there any exceptions to the Railroad Retirement annuity reduction for Social Security benefits?

No. There are no exceptions to the Railroad Retirement annuity reduction for Social Security benefits.

4. Can federal, state or local government pensions also result in dual benefit reductions in an employee’s Railroad Retirement annuity?

Yes. Tier I benefits for employees first eligible for a Railroad Retirement annuity and a federal, state or local government pension after 1985 may be reduced 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 Railroad Retirement or Social Security, such as payments from a non-profit organization or a foreign government or a foreign employer. Usually, an employee’s Tier I benefit will not be reduced by more than 1/2 of his or her pension from noncovered employment. However, if the employee is under age 65 and receiving a disability annuity, the Tier I benefit may be reduced by an added amount if the pension from noncovered employment is a public disability benefit.

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 will not cause a reduction.

5. Can the public service pension reduction apply to spouse or widow(er)s’ benefits?

Yes. The Tier I portion of a spouse’s or widow(er)’s annuity may 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. For spouses and widow(er)s subject to a public service pension reduction, the Tier I reduction is equal to 2/3 of the amount of the public service pension.

The reduction generally does not apply if the employment on which the public service pension is based was covered under the Social Security Act throughout the last 60 months of public employment. 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.

6. What dual benefit restrictions apply when both persons in a marriage are railroad employees entitled to Railroad Retirement annuities?

If both parties started railroad employment after 1974, the amount of any spouse or divorced spouse annuity is reduced by the amount of the employee annuity to which the spouse or divorced spouse is also entitled.

If either party had some railroad service before 1975, the spouse or divorced spouse Tier I amount is reduced by the amount of the railroad employee Tier I to which the spouse or divorced spouse is entitled. The spouse or divorced spouse Tier I amount cannot be reduced below zero. The initial reduction is restored in the spouse Tier II amount. Divorced spouses are not entitled to a Tier II component and are not eligible to have the reduction restored.

In survivor cases, if the widow(er) is entitled to a Railroad Retirement employee annuity and neither the widow(er) nor the deceased employee had any railroad service before 1975, the survivor annuity (Tier I and Tier II) payable to the widow(er) is reduced by the total amount of the widow(er)’s own employee annuity.

If a widow or dependent widower is also a railroad employee annuitant, and either the widow(er) or the deceased employee had 120 months of railroad service before 1975, the Tier I reduction may be partially restored in the survivor Tier II amount.

If either the deceased employee or the widow(er) had some railroad service before 1975 but less than 120 months of service, the widow(er)’s own employee annuity and the Tier II portion of the survivor annuity would be payable to the widow(er). The Tier I portion of the survivor annuity would be payable only to the extent that it exceeds the Tier I portion of the widow(er)’s own employee annuity.

7. Can workers’ compensation or public disability benefits affect Railroad Retirement benefits?

If an employee is receiving a Railroad Retirement 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.

8. How can an annuitant find out if the receipt of any dual benefits affects his or her Railroad Retirement annuity?

If an annuitant becomes entitled to any of the dual benefit payments discussed above, or if there is any question as to whether a dual benefit payment requires a reduction in an annuity, he or she should contact an RRB field office online or by phone. As all of the RRB’s 53 field offices are physically closed to the public until further notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

RRB: The importance of a current connection for Railroad Retirement benefits

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.

RRB update from the labor member: 2021 Covid and budget notice

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!

SMART-TD mourns the passing of Edward J. Carney

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.

Click here to read Brother Carney’s official obituary.


RRB: Retirement seminar now available to view online

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.

Retirement benefits will see COLA increase in 2021

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.

Members rally to save their jobs at Amtrak

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 support for Amtrak funding and in an effort to raise awarenessWisconsin 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 conducting pop-up rallies in Milwaukee and Dearborn, Mich., respectively. 

Chicago 

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? Two thousand 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!  

Washington, D.C. 

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 rally and 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.  

Dearborn, Mich. 

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 onesIn 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 RapidstoChicago 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,” Hatton told 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.”  

Milwaukee

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 @Amtrak over 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  

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