The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act authorized a “recovery payment” for unemployed railroad workers in the amount of $1,200 per 2-week registration period. After making necessary programming changes to its claims processing systems, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) started making the payments on the evening of May 28.
In the initial round of processing, the agency made retroactive payments of $1,200 per 2-week registration period to individuals who had previously filed claims beginning on or after April 1. Those individuals had previously received unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in the amount of $733.98 to most claimants. The RRB estimates that the total amount of retroactive payments will be about $32 million. While the regular UI amount of $733.98 is reduced from $780 due to sequestration, the additional $1,200 recovery payment is not subject to reduction. However, it is subject to income taxation and garnishment for tax and other legally established debt.
Once these payments are completed, the RRB plans to start paying the additional $1,200 for new benefit claims the following day. The additional amount is payable on claims for days of unemployment through the 2-week claim period beginning July 31, 2020.
The CARES Act includes an appropriation of $425 million to pay for this added recovery payment. If these funds are exhausted before August 13, the end of the last eligible registration period, the added payment will no longer apply.
The CARES Act also authorized payment of extended benefits to rail workers who received UI benefits between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020. The RRB started paying the extended UI benefits on May 11, once again beginning with retroactive payments to individuals who had previously exhausted their regular UI benefits, before moving on to new claims.
The final piece of the CARES Act for the RRB is the elimination of a 1-week waiting period to receive benefits funded by an additional $50 million appropriation to cover this provision. The agency continues to diligently work on the needed programming for this provision, and hopes to have it completed in the near future. Again, the agency will initially make retroactive payments to individuals who had previously submitted UI claims before quickly moving on to processing new claims without the waiting period.
The RRB identified any eligible employees who previously received UI benefits for days of unemployment after April 1, 2020, so that the payments could be issued without the employee submitting additional information. For initial claims in the coming months, employees are encouraged to file them online through myRRB on the agency website, RRB.gov.
I wanted to send out another update on what is going on at the agency. We have received inquiries regarding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was established under the CARES Act and whether railroaders may be eligible for benefits under that program if they are not eligible for Railroad Unemployment Insurance Benefits (RUIA) benefits. The Department of Labor (DoL) is responsible for giving guidance to the states regarding the PUA benefits, so we asked the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) General Counsel to reach out to the DoL. The RRB’s General Counsel has been advised by the DoL that nothing in the PUA provisions prohibit railroaders from being eligible for these benefits if they otherwise qualify. Similarly, the RRB’s General Counsel has found that there is nothing in the RUIA that prohibits railroaders from receiving PUA benefits if they are not receiving RUIA benefits. So as a result, I would recommend that if your members have been denied RUIA benefits, they check with their state unemployment services to see if they are eligible for PUA benefits. To find out the application process in each state, you can refer workers to the Unemployment Benefit Finder at the following website:
We have also received questions about the $1,200 one-time economic relief payment. The Department of Treasury is responsible for making those payments, so unfortunately, we do not have information about the timing of those payments. Information about the economic relief payments can be found at the following link: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know
Though not related to COVID-19, I wanted to inform you of a new hire at the RRB. As you may remember from previous updates, the Board has been trying to hire a Chief Medical Officer. A new CMO, Dr. Elizabeth Bonson, has been hired and starts today. We hope that the CMO’s presence at the agency will help make the disability process more efficient.
Finally, as you know, the RRB is located in Chicago and this week, the governor of Illinois extended the stay-at-home order through May 30. I anticipate that the agency headquarters will continue to primarily work remotely. Regarding the field offices, although not all states have the same limitations as Illinois, at present it is my recommendation that it is in the best interests of agency personnel and the railroad population we serve to maintain the current work environment for all offices. Consequently, for the time being, field offices will remain closed to the public and staff will work remotely with periodic visits to the office for administrative tasks.
Labor member, Railroad Retirement Board
The Honorable K. Jane Williams
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Dear Acting Administrator Williams:
First, we want to thank you and your staff for your hard work ensuring that funding provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was apportioned to transit agencies in such an expeditious manner. The $25 billion in emergency funding provided by the CARES Act comes at a critical time for public transportation, the frontline workforce who operate and maintain it, and the millions of Americans—including health care workers, law enforcement, first responders, and other safety personnel—who still rely on it every day during this crisis.
As you know, these funds are provided for capital and operating expenses related to the coronavirus health emergency, including the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and paying the administrative leave of operations personnel due to reductions in service. While PPE and cleaning supplies are eligible for 100 percent federal reimbursement, we understand that there are significant challenges—largely related to demand and global supply chain disruptions—in securing adequate safety equipment for public transportation personnel.
While we stand by the critical importance of the work our members are providing during this crisis, we must also consider their health and the health of those around them. Stories of frontline public transportation workers contracting COVID-19 and tragically dying from the virus are already emerging around the country, and it will only get worse in the coming weeks and months. To ensure the best use of the emergency funding provided by the CARES Act and to protect the health and safety of the frontline workforce and traveling public, we request the following:
First, the Federal Transit Administration should issue immediate and specific interim guidance to public transportation agencies and local governments on the minimum level of PPE for essential frontline employees and cleaning procedures for public transportation services and facilities. At a minimum, this should include masks, gloves, and cleaning supplies for transit workers; and mandatory cleaning standards for trains, buses, subway cars, and public transit stations that are consistent with existing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Second, if a public transportation agency or local government is not able to meet these guidelines and is therefore not able to provide service, and in keeping with the intent of the CARES Act, the FTA must ensure that transit agencies provide continuity of pay to employees until such a time that the established requirements can be met.
Finally, the FTA should urge transit agencies to follow back-door loading policies on all buses, when possible, for all non-ADA passengers to minimize exposure to bus operators, and to set temporary maximum passenger loads that allow for social distancing of passengers.
Taking these steps now will ensure not only the health and safety of America’s frontline public transportation workforce, but also that this critical transportation service continues to operate regularly when we emerge from this crisis.
We thank you for your consideration and would be happy to have further discussion with you or your staff about proactive steps we can take to reduce harm and loss of life during this crisis.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law March 27, boosts unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad workers impacted by the pandemic.
Under the CARES Act, the 1-week waiting period required before railroad workers can receive unemployment or sickness benefits is temporarily eliminated. This applies to an employee’s first two-week registration period for a period of continuing sickness or unemployment beginning after the effective date of the law and ending on or before December 31, 2020.
In addition, the amount of the unemployment benefit is increased by $1,200 per 2-week period. This is in addition to the current biweekly maximum of $733.98 received by most claimants. This increased amount applies to any two-week registration periods beginning on or after April 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020.
The CARES Act includes a separate appropriation of $425 million to pay for this added “recovery benefit,” with an additional $50 million provided to cover the cost of eliminating the waiting period. If these funds are exhausted, the new provisions will no longer apply.
The CARES Act also authorizes payment of extended unemployment benefits to rail workers who received unemployment benefits from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020.
Under the legislation, railroad workers with fewer than 10 years of service may be eligible for up to 65 days of extended benefits within seven consecutive two-week registration periods. Workers with 10 or more years of railroad service who were previously eligible for up to 65 days in extended benefits may now receive benefits for up to 130 days within 13 consecutive two-week registration periods.
Since RRB offices are currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, railroad employees are encouraged to file for unemployment benefits online by establishing an account through myRRB at RRB.gov. Employees are encouraged to use a computer rather than a smartphone or tablet due to RRB IT system limitations. Otherwise, applications and claims for benefits will need to be submitted by regular mail. Applications for sickness benefits must be submitted to the agency by mail, or by fax at 312-751-7185. Subsequent claims may be completed online by those with myRRB accounts.
The RRB will also pay sickness benefits and, in some cases, unemployment benefits, to rail workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are subject to a quarantine order. Further guidance on these types of situations is available at RRB.gov/Benefits/Coronavirus.