“His wife and kids wanted us to thank you from the bottom of their hearts for your prayers and donations. She is grateful for everything you all have done,” Montero wrote on the GoFundMe page. “We personally wanted to thank everyone for all your donations and help during this time. At the end of the day, we are all a railroad family and unite to help one another out, and during these tough times it has really shown!”
When asked to describe Joe, co-workers shared:
“Joe always would show up to work with a smile and a genuine greeting, so even if you were having a bad day, he always seemed to bring out the best in you.”
As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020. In an announcement dated June 17, 2020, we advised that the Plan would be extending the waiver for three (3) more months through August 2020.
We are pleased to announce that the waiver of the elimination period is extended through November 30, 2020. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March through November 2020, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after December 1, 2020.
We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.
Board of Trustees Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr.,
General President SMART
Mr. Jeremy Ferguson,
President-SMART Transportation Division
Mr. Joseph Powell,
General Secretary-Treasurer SMART
The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201
On Sept. 14, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law S-2380, which retroactively protects the state’s essential workers, including SMART Transportation Division bus members, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Essential employees’ workers compensation claims are routinely rejected by employers because the employees can’t prove they contracted COVID-19 at their place of work. This law shifts the burden of proof to the employer in state workers’ compensation claims for essential workers who interact with the public and contract COVID-19 during the declared state of emergency.
“This is the strongest law in the country for essential workers,” said New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol, who worked in conjunction with the state AFL-CIO in order to get legislators to pass and Murphy to sign the bill. “The governor and state legislators have taken strong action to protect TD members and all of our essential workers who were and continue to face the risk of being exposed to COVID during the course of doing their jobs.”
Most of the laws that were booked in states involving protecting essential workers nationwide were simply executive orders — limited in scope covering just police, fire and medical workers. The CARES Act passed in the early months of the pandemic only included financial coverage of testing for the virus. The New Jersey law covers all workers who are out of work because of COVID-19 who miss an extended period of time from their job, Sabol said.
“It covers the medical part of everything,” Sabol said. “If you had a person who got sick from COVID and you were out for weeks, it’s now covered by workers’ compensation.”
The bill covers the period from March 9, when Gov. Murphy declared a state emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic.
S-2380/A-3999 was sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, Sens. Nick Scutari, D-20th District, Robert Singer, R-30th District, and Linda Greenstein, D-14th District, and by Assemblymen Thomas Giblin, D-34th District, and John Burzichelli, D-3rd District, and Assemblywomen Carol Murphy, D-7th District, and Joann Downey, D-11th District.
A second bill — S-2476 — is being considered that enhances death benefits for workers who passed from COVID-19.
The SMART Transportation Division was among the 36 signatories in a letter sent Aug. 4 calling on leaders in Congress to provide $36 billion in emergency aid to public transportation agencies as the economy continues to be staggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter delivered a stark warning to lawmakers: without at least $32 billion in emergency funding, transit systems in both urban and rural areas face irreversible harm. In the letter, the organizations explained that physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on demand for public transportation services. This, in turn, has placed a major strain on funding sources public transportation agencies traditionally rely on, including farebox revenue and sales tax receipts.
The text of the letter appears below:
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer:
On behalf of the millions of Americans who rely on public transportation every day, the 435,000 frontline workers who operate and maintain those systems, and the public transportation agencies that serve communities across America, we urge you to include at least $32 billion in funding for public transportation in the next COVID-19 emergency response bill.
As you know, physical distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, have taken a serious toll on overall demand for public transportation services. This has placed a major strain on the revenue sources public transportation agencies count on for continued operations, including farebox revenue and sales taxes. Nonetheless, throughout this crisis, millions of Americans have continued to depend on reliable and safe public transportation to get to and from work and for other essential services.
Without robust public transit systems in our urban and rural communities alike, the national economy will not be able to recover. As recently reported in The New York Times, some public transit systems are in danger of heading into a “transit death spiral” where evaporating revenues lead to cuts in services, which in turn cause riders to find alternative means of transportation if they can, further incapacitating transit systems to the point where they become insolvent and inoperable. Communities and transit agencies of all sizes are hurting, and critical emergency funding must be made available immediately to avoid a worsening crisis.
Millions of essential workers bravely fighting on the front lines of this pandemic have no other means of transportation. Healthcare, grocery, and other workers will be put at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods. And families who rely on transit for transportation to pick up food, get to work, and meet their health care needs will be left stranded. Likewise, Americans who depend on paratransit service and Medicaid recipients who receive medical transportation for critical care services will lose their only transportation lifeline. Seniors, communities of color, and other groups who disproportionately rely on transit will be particularly hard-hit, further weakening our country at the worst possible time.
Unfortunately, if Congress does not provide the necessary funding for public transportation in the immediate future, the traveling public will suffer. Allowing vital transportation services to lapse in the middle of a global pandemic will guarantee more harm to our communities and place the economic well-being of the American public in jeopardy.
Our communities across the country are depending on you to act swiftly and decisively to save public transit. This will require an immediate investment of at least $32 billion in our transit systems. We urge you to include this funding in the next aid package.
Amalgamated Transit Union Active Transit Alliance (Chicago, IL) American Public Transportation Association American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Better Bus Coalition (Cincinnati, OH) Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen Central Ohio Transit Authority (Columbus, OH) Center for Disability Rights (Rochester, NY / Washington, DC) Central Maryland Transportation Alliance Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago, IL) Circulate San Diego Coalition for Smarter Growth (Washington, DC) International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division (SMART-TD) International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers International Brotherhood of Teamsters Investing in Place (Los Angeles, CA) Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) (Los Angeles, CA) Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston, Texas) Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York, NY) National Conference of Firemen & Oilers, SEIU Pittsburghers for Public Transit Riders Alliance (New York, NY) San Francisco Transit Riders Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Sound Transit (Seattle, WA) The Street Trust (Portland, OR) Transit Forward Philadelphia Transit Matters (Boston, MA) Transportation for America Transportation Communications Union/IAM Transport Workers Union Tri-State Transportation Campaign (NY, NJ, CT) Transportation Choices Coalition (Seattle, WA) Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Washington, D.C.)
Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, of which the SMART Transportation Division is a member, sent the following letter on July 27 petitioning Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to issue a regulation requiring passengers to wear masks as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. The letter is reproduced below. The request also has been detailed in an article by The Washington Post.
Dear Secretary Chao:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) and our 33 affiliated unions across the transportation industry, I write today to petition the Department of Transportation (DOT) to expeditiously promulgate regulation to mandate the usage of masks or face coverings for passengers traveling with DOT-regulated commercial transportation providers during the course of the Presidential Declaration of Emergency for COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, over four million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and approximately 150,000 have tragically lost their lives. Despite this, thousands of workers in the passenger transportation industry have continued to go to work on planes, buses, ferries, and trains in increasingly dangerous conditions. Regrettably, these employees have not been spared the effects of the disease, and each TTD union involved in passenger transportation has reported infections and deaths among their frontline workers.
While these bus drivers, pilots, flight attendants, train crews, ferry operators, and others are faced with an impossible choice every day between risking their health and losing their livelihood, we acknowledge that the irreplaceable services they provide must continue to keep the U.S. economy running. Unfortunately, efforts to protect these employees from inherently hazardous workplaces and the threat of deadly communicable disease have been limited to a patchwork of state or local mandates, and a deeply inadequate federal response consisting of non-mandatory guidance.
These limited mandates from non-federal jurisdictions are helpful, but are limited in scope and impact. To date, barely half of states have enacted mandatory mask requirements in public, while the country is continuing to set global records on new infections per day.  The COVID-19 pandemic has become a national crisis, and it is time that it receives a strong national response. The federal government is uniquely positioned to address this problem, particularly as it relates to a multimodal transportation system stretching coast to coast, connecting millions of travelling Americans. Not only does DOT have the ability to ensure uniform safety standards across transportation workplaces, it also provides enforcement capabilities that cannot be replicated by public or private transportation providers alone.
As cases continue to soar, it is thus incumbent on DOT to take decisive action to protect frontline transportation workers from the spread of COVID-19 through a regulatory mandate on passenger mask usage. DOT has already acknowledged the utility of such prophylactic measures, including recommending that transportation providers follow CDC guidelines  and additional publications of modal-specific recommendations. Today we request that DOT move beyond guidance and adopt actual mandates to keep transportation workers safe on the job. This regulation should require that passengers wear masks covering the nose and mouth while on board buses, trains, airplanes, and passenger vessels, as well as in boarding areas and associated facilities including airports and stations. The regulation should also make clear that a transportation provider has an obligation to refuse to transport any passenger who is unwilling to comply for reasons unrelated to a disability that would prevent them from doing so.
Established and non-rebuttable scientific evidence makes clear the value in a passenger mask mandate. Many passenger transportation workers work in high-risk enclosed environments, like airplanes, airports, buses, stations, and trains, where the benefits of social distancing or outside airflow are impossible. For these employees, mandated masks are the best available defense against COVID-19 transmission.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that speaking just two words, less than a passenger might speak to a flight attendant or Amtrak conductor taking tickets, generates numerous particle droplets between 20 to 500 micrometers, but that the use of a covering blocked nearly all of them. In another study, researchers determined that widespread mask use, even the use of homemade masks, could drastically reduce COVID-19 transmission and prevent future “waves”. 
Topically, a letter to the editor from a pair of Chinese researchers discusses a case study of a COVID-19 positive passenger utilizing bus services. In the case, an individual began to feel symptoms while riding a motorcoach but did not don a face mask. Following this trip, at least five other passengers out of 39 tested positive. The individual then boarded a minibus, this time wearing a mask. Out of 14 passengers on that bus, zero tested positive. While anecdotal, this and a number of further epidemiological case studies point to the efficacy of wearing a mask to reduce transmission from COVID-19 positive individuals.
This research and these findings hardly stand alone—the scientific community writ large has nearly universally come to the determination that extensive use of face masks provides extremely meaningful protection from transmission. The efficacy of mask usage is also borne out by the mitigation successes of several countries with high levels of mask compliance, such as Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. It is therefore unsurprising that this level of mask use is now recommended in numerous CDC guidance documents.
However, non-mandatory guidelines and a patchwork of mandates or additional guidelines from private companies, states, and other jurisdictions have failed to achieve the level of mask usage that is necessary. A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of Americans reported always using a mask while outside the home, while 30% reported never doing so. Continuing to put transportation employees in harm’s way by failing to promulgate mandates will only ensure additional spread of COVID-19 and the preventable deaths of members represented by TTD unions. For this reason, DOT must immediately proceed with a mandate.
We believe strongly that DOT has the broad authority to take this action to improve workforce health and safety for thousands of workers. Further, examples of regulatory and statutory authorities for a mandate to protect workers from dangerous health conditions exist across modal agencies.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has clear statutory authority for promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce, including mandates to protect occupants of aircraft from risks and hazards (49 USC 44701, 44703, 44507). FAA also has existent regulation concerning passengers traveling with communicable diseases, and as recently as 2006 explicitly stated that “in light of the statutory duties described above, the FAA has determined that it is a public health authority.” In totality, these and other items speak to the appropriateness of the actions we request in this petition.
Similarly, FRA’s recent System Safety Program rulemaking sets requirements for passenger rail carriers to create plans to reduce hazards for employees, defined as “as any real or potential condition that can cause injury, illness, or death; damage to or loss of a system, equipment, or property; or damage to the environment”.  The Federal Transit Administration uses a similar definition within the context of its Public Transportation Agency Safety Plans contained at 49 C.F.R. 673. In both circumstances, the established role of DOT in combating illness in the workplace is evident.
While the listed citations and agencies are not meant to be exhaustive, they are clear demonstrations that various justifications for a passenger mask mandate exist across DOT agencies, and that any determination otherwise is based in a deliberate and improperly narrow reading of both statute and regulation.
In recent testimony to a House of Representatives panel, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Heather Krause also offered the opinion that DOT has a clear leadership role to play in combating COVID-19, when speaking on the subject of the DOT/FAA’s efforts in the development of a national aviation-preparedness plan, stating that:
“We continue to believe that DOT would be in the best position to lead the effort because FAA and DOT have stronger and deeper ties to, as well as oversight responsibility for, the relevant stakeholders that would be most involved in such a broad effort, namely airlines, airports, and other aviation stakeholders”.
We agree strongly with the Government Accountability Office’s statement, and believe that DOT is the appropriate body to implement a passenger mask mandate, stemming from both its existing authorities and its particular knowledge of, and connection to, the affected sectors.
While it is our hope that DOT accepts our petition, we also note that due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding expeditiously in order to reduce spread and fatalities is of the utmost importance. Unlike in normal circumstances, it is simply not viable to proceed with a standard rulemaking process over the course of months, if not years. Therefore we also call for DOT to exercise its authority under Section 553(b)(3)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), suspending notice and comment period and proceeding to an immediately effective Interim Final Rule. As required by the APA, we believe a rapid response to the pandemic meets the statutory threshold of a “good cause” and that going through normal procedures would be “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”
To date, TTD and our affiliate unions have filed a number of petitions and requests with DOT and its modal agencies on numerous issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disappointed that the Department has not taken affirmative actions on these items and continue to believe that these requests are warranted by existing conditions in the transportation industry. We appreciate DOT’s consideration of this petition and hope that the Department will begin to take the necessary steps to protect transportation workers. We look forward to working with the agency to protect the frontline workforce and the traveling public from COVID-19 infection.
Larry I. Willis
President, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department
 Attached is a list of TTD’s 33 affiliated unions.
 To include, but not limited to travel provided by an air carrier (as defined in 49 USC 40102), a passenger vessel operator, a commuter authority or intercity passenger railroad, a transit agency, a school bus operator or a motorcoach operator, and at related facilities such as airports and stations.
 TTD acknowledges reasonable exceptions for individuals who are unable to wear a mask due to a disability or documented medical condition.
 For example, FRA Safety Advisory 2020–01; FTA Safety Advisory 20-01
 For example, FTA’s COVID-19 Resource Tool; FAA’s May 2020 Safety Alert for Operators
 Anfrinrud, Phillip, et al, Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering, New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2020.
 Stutt, Richard, et al, A modelling framework to assess the likely effectiveness of facemasks in combination with ‘lock-down’ in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Proceedings of the Royal Society, June 10, 2020.
 Liu X, Zhang S. COVID-19: Face masks and human-to-human transmission, Influenza Other Respir Viruses. April 5, 2020.
 71 FR 8042
As many of you may recall, the SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan temporarily suspended the Elimination Period for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. In an announcement to you dated April 15, 2020, we communicated that the Elimination Period was being waived for any COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March, April and May 2020.
We are pleased to announce that the Plan will be extending this waiver for three (3) more months through August 2020. So, effective with all diagnosed COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning in the months of March through August 2020, the Plan’s Elimination Period will be waived. Members must usually be disabled for 21 days before benefits will begin on the 22nd day. This is known as the Elimination Period or Waiting Period. We are waiving this Waiting Period for positive COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities. This change will expedite and increase benefits for approved applicants so that you will have immediate access to money. The Waiting Period will be reinstated for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) disabilities beginning on and after September 1, 2020.
We are pleased that the Plan can take this action on your behalf. We wish you and your family health and wellness during these trying times.
Board of Trustees
Mr. Joseph Sellers Jr., General President SMART
Mr. Jeremy Ferguson, President-SMART Transportation Division
Mr. Joseph Powell, General Secretary-Treasurer SMART
The SMART Voluntary Short Term Disability Plan is administered by:
Southern Benefit Administrators, Incorporated
P.O. Box 1449
Goodlettsville, Tennessee 37070-1449
Toll-Free: (844) 880-1071, Fax: (615) 859-0201
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.
Locals not holding their meetings in June may continue to pay authorized expenses via the process outlined by this office in the March 17, 2020, circular. This advised officers and members seeking membership approval of expense submissions to utilize a version of a procedure that was previously available only to Local Chairpersons. For exact details and procedures, please reference the March circular. A copy of the claim form to be used can be obtained via TD Connect or by contacting this office.
Reimbursement for expenses via the five-signature claim form is only to be sought after fulfilling a legitimate duty of office, pursuing a matter as adopted and directed by the membership, or in fulfilling an assignment at the direction of an officer with authority over
the matter in question. It is not for members or officers to unilaterally assign themselves duties or make purchases and then seek a disbursement from the Local or the LCA.
As a reminder, there is no mechanism available for “official” meetings to be held via video conference. Among other concerns, such meetings pose a challenge to the constitutional requirement to keep the union’s business private, and some members might not have the equipment or skills to “attend” such meetings.
Further guidance will be circulated as the situation develops.
In my last update, I explained that Phase 2 of the Railroad Retirement Board’s (RRB) CARES Act implementation plan was targeted for completion by the end of May. Phase 2 of the RRB’s plan provides for the additional $1,200 per registration period for claims beginning April 1, 2020, or later. I am happy to report that final testing is underway as I draft this message. Barring any unforeseen complications, we anticipate making the first payments under Phase 2 within a week. I am grateful for the commitment of RRB employees who have worked tirelessly to implement computer programming changes to issue these payments, in recognition that they are crucial to our brothers and sisters in the railroad community.
RRB Labor Member John Bragg
Recently, we have been receiving inquiries regarding railroad employees filing for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits with the RRB while being compensated for work as union representatives. Employees must report all full-time and part-time work to the RRB when filing for benefits, including work as a union representative. If pay is received for a particular day, the employee should not claim the day as a day of unemployment. Instead, the employee should report the pay on the claim form with the appropriate code (for example, ‘E’ for a day employed, or ‘P’ for a vacation day or holiday pay). There are certain conditions where part-time work does not affect entitlement to benefits. In general, if the pay is no more than $15 a day for work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of full-time employment, it may be considered “subsidiary remuneration” and will not affect payment of UI benefits. Employees should keep in mind that the RRB must make a determination in advance of whether benefits are payable for days where part-time work was performed. Following are 2 examples provided for illustrative purposes:
Example 1: A claimant receives a salary of $350 per month for serving as secretary-treasurer of the local lodge of his union. He performs a variety of duties at his own convenience while holding down a full-time railroad job in his craft. The average payment per day is not more than $15 and therefore it will likely be determined to be subsidiary remuneration. If the claimant is laid off from his full-time railroad job but still receives $350 per month union salary, he should contact the RRB to see if unemployment benefits may be paid to him.
Example 2: A claimant receives a salary of $500 per month for serving as secretary-treasurer of the local lodge of his union. He performs a variety of duties at his own convenience while holding down a full-time railroad job in his craft. The average payment per day is more than $15 and therefore it will likely be determined not to be subsidiary remuneration. If the claimant is laid off from his full-time railroad job but still receives $500 per month union salary, it is likely no UI benefits would be payable as UI benefits would only be payable if the amount he was paid for the union work was subsidiary remuneration.
Additional guidance on the effects of part-time work and whether the compensation paid for such work meets the definition of subsidiary remuneration can be obtained by contacting the RRB at 1-877-772-5772.
A message from John Bragg, the Railroad Retirement Board’s labor member, released this week stated that the increased $1,200 in unemployment benefits from the CARES Act will begin to be deposited toward the end of the month.
“We do not have an implementation date as of yet, but barring unforeseen complications, (we) hope to have Phase 2 completed by the end of the month,” Bragg stated. “Our team is working on the necessary programming changes to provide for those payments.”
The payment of the additional $1,200 biweekly per registration period for unemployment claims beginning April 1, 2020, or later will be paid retroactively to April 1 once the necessary adjustments are made to the RRB’s system.
“I assure you that agency employees recognize the lifeline that these benefits represent for the railroad community and all appropriate resources are being directed towards completing this work as soon as possible,” Bragg said.
The first phase of CARES Act unemployment assistance for rail workers required RRB to identify all employees who exhausted their regular UI benefits during the benefit year that began July 1, 2019, establish new extended UI periods and lengthen existing extended UI benefit periods as appropriate and pay any denied days of unemployment already on record.
RRB also sent UI claimants a letter of the payment actions and mailed any needed claim forms to bring claimants current so they can continue to receive the extended benefits. For those who file their claims electronically, the RRB loaded appropriate claim forms to their online accounts so that individuals can file them online through myRRB on the website RRB.gov.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, recently signed into law by President Trump, authorized extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for railroad workers sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic. After making necessary programming changes to agency systems, the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) began processing and paying extended benefits on May 11.
The CARES Act authorized payment of extended UI benefits to rail workers who received UI benefits from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. Under the legislation, railroad workers with less than 10 years of service may be eligible for up to 65 days of extended benefits within 7 consecutive 2-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 2-week registration periods. No extended benefit period under this provision can begin after December 31, 2020.
The RRB will identify any employees who exhausted their regular UI benefits during the benefit year that began July 1, 2019, and send them a letter and claim forms to receive the extended benefits. The agency will also load appropriate claim forms to online accounts so that individuals can file them online through myRRB on the agency website, RRB.gov.
Since RRB offices are currently closed to the public due to the pandemic, railroad employees are encouraged to file for UI benefits by setting up an online myRRB account if they have not already done so.
The extended benefits are being paid from a previous appropriation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, of which $140 million remains. As a result, these benefits will not be charged to rail employers in calculating their contribution rates to fund the railroad unemployment system. Extended benefits will be payable until a claimant’s eligibility is exhausted or the appropriation is depleted, whichever comes first.
While the extended benefits will not be subject to reduction due to budget sequestration, the RRB does remind recipients that the payments are subject to income taxation and garnishment for tax or other legally established debts.
The team responsible for programming adjustments continues to work diligently to update systems to allow for the payment of the additional CARES Act benefits. When that processing is completed, payment will be made to cover retroactive periods. Meanwhile, employees who met eligibility requirements for UI at the beginning of the benefit year but had exhausted those benefits will now be able to file for and again receive UI benefits.