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.
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.
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 purpose of this notice is to bring to your attention two changes which have been made to that guidance.
The first change relates to the instructions on filing applications and claims — specifically, the instructions related to the filing for sickness benefits. It is not a significant change, but I still wanted to bring it to your attention. Ordinarily, an applicant for sickness benefits must submit an application form and must also submit Form SI-1b, Statement of Sickness. Because the Form SI-1b requires a doctor’s signature and it was recognized that it may be difficult to get a physician to sign a statement during these unique circumstances, the RRB issued guidance indicating that, in lieu of Form SI-1b, a written statement could be submitted for the first claim. Because of the Paperwork Reduction Act and the manner in which federal agencies may collect information, that statement should now be submitted through an RRB Form G-93, Statement of Claimant or Other Person. You can find that form here: RRB Form-G-93. See also Questions 5-7 of the FAQs. A side benefit is that we believe this will simplify the process for those unable to obtain a Form SI-1b, as it is a fillable form.
The second change relates to the Q&As themselves. We have received numerous inquiries regarding the one-time-only economic relief payment provided by the CARES Act. The RRB is not responsible for these payments. Therefore, we have added the following as Q&A No. 16:
Q: Is the RRB going to pay the one-time-only economic relief payment available to individuals with income of $99,000 or less and couples with income of $198,000 or less?
I want to assure you that, while the worksite environment has changed considerably for RRB employees, the longstanding tradition of commitment to assuring that railroad workers receive the benefits that they have earned remains as strong as ever. These are unprecedented times and I will do my best to keep you informed. As we make changes accordingly, the agency will keep updating the website as well as the FAQs. Meanwhile, if you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Labor Member, Railroad Retirement Board
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.
On March 27, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that provides provisions favorable to SMART Transportation Division members as the nation continues to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill provides a $2 trillion relief package to the nation as it copes with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has killed hundreds and infected thousands of Americans.
“This bill helps to provide some short-term relief to the transportation industry that has been staggered by the coronavirus,” National Legislative Director Greg Hynes said. “In the event that carriers continue to cut workers or that employees get sick, those workers, including our members, will have extended financial protection. It also gives a financial lifeline to Amtrak as the passenger carrier’s operations have been severely curtailed by the pandemic.”
This relief bill:
waives the seven-day waiting period for benefits provided under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA).
provides an enhanced RUIA benefit of $1,200 per two-week period in addition to regular RUIA benefits.
extends Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) sickness and unemployment benefits by 13 weeks.
provides RRB $5 million in additional grant funds to administer the RUIA.
provides $1 billion in funding to keep Amtrak operational to prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including $492 million to the Northeast Corridor and $508 million to support its long-distance service.
tasks Amtrak with providing congressional reports regarding employee furloughs, if they occur.
The economic uncertainty and long-term health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic present a challenge nationally, and the RRB is advising all railroaders to set up a RRB account. Click here to establish your account.
Additional RRB funding and the removal of RRB benefits from the budget sequester implemented by congressional Republicans during the Obama administration may be considered in subsequent relief packages.
The purpose of this notice is to update you on how COVID-19 is impacting operations at the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). Be assured, while it is not business as usual, the agency remains open for business. Listed below are some of the more notable changes. Last week, my office sent a press release to rail labor on some of these topics. Hopefully this message will include more detailed information for you and your members.
Field Service Operations:
Last week, my office sent a press release to rail labor advising that field offices are closed to the public. Whenever possible, agency personnel, including field personnel, are working from home. Unfortunately, we expect delays with processing incoming work because as you know, much of our work is not automated. We receive applications and claims for both unemployment and sickness by mail and by fax. Because of safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, staff is only going into the office or to the post office on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Because of our concern regarding the delay in processing paper applications and claims, we are encouraging railroaders to set up myRRB.gov accounts on the RRB.gov website. I have attached information about all the services available through that account. Please feel free to share with your memberships. With that account, an employee can file for and submit claims for unemployment. A railroader can also submit sickness claims, though not the initial application. Usually, an initial sickness application is either mailed or faxed in from the employee’s doctor’s office to the agency at (312) 751-7185. If an employee is unable to do that or if delays persist, please contact my office at (312) 751-4905 and my staff will assist you in any way they can.
We have received questions regarding the continuation of retirement and disability benefits. Fortunately, that is overall an automated process and we do not expect any delays in paying those already established benefits. In addition, our actuary has assured us that the rail trust funds are well-positioned to pay all retirement, survivor, unemployment and sickness benefits. We are actively addressing questions regarding benefits payable under the RUIA and special circumstances raised by COVID-19.
Related to legislative changes, there have been congressional proposals to remove sequestration from unemployment and sickness benefits; waive the statutory 7-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits; increase the amount of unemployment benefits; and extend the duration of unemployment benefits. There have also been proposals to increase the RRB’s administrative budget in order to account for increased costs related to COVID-19. My staff, along with the agency’s Office of Legislative Affairs and other agency subject matter experts, have worked with congressional staffers as well as your unions to convey the information needed in order for the legislation to move forward.
These are trying times and the agency is doing its best to continue to pay the right people, the right benefits, at the right time. Things are changing quickly and I will update you in the future as the RRB makes adjustments. In the meantime, if you have any questions or problems, I and my staff are always available to assist.
The economic uncertainty and long-term health risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic present a challenge nationally, and the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), which administers railroad sickness and unemployment benefits, is advising all railroaders to establish an online login.gov account.
Establishing this account gives workers a head start in the event that RRB unemployment or sick benefits are needed by RR workers in the case of carrier furloughs or illness.
Information needed to create the login.gov account includes:
A current, state-issued ID;
An email address;
Enabling two-step authentication;
Providing basic information such as name, address and phone number;
Social Security number;
Once the info is processed, a personal key will be provided to the worker that will be needed to gain access and make changes to the account. This key should be written down and stored in a safe place.
RRB operations, like those of many other public service agencies, have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The board is following CDC guidelines and has closed its field offices, so services are being provided primarily through the RRB website and its toll-free number (877-772-5772).
A login.gov account permits users to have instant access to:
Apply for unemployment benefits
Claim unemployment benefits
View Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act account info
John Bragg, labor member of the Railroad Retirement Board, issued the following statement on March 19, 2020:
Based on the best information currently available and guidance issued by public health officials, the Office of the Labor Member has canceled all Pre-Retirement Seminars scheduled from March through June until further notice. We made this difficult decision out of an abundance of caution to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our customers and staff as we navigate through this time of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
While we expect to reschedule these seminars later this year, we’ll be monitoring the situation as it evolves and provide event updates when details are finalized.
We encourage would-be attendees to stay informed while practicing social distancing and review seminar materials, which are all available online. The program booklet is posted on our Pre-Retirement Seminar web page, and all other items included in seminar kits can be found on our Educational Materials web page.
Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding – we look forward to getting back on track in the coming months.
On behalf of Labor Member of the Board John Bragg, the following release was issued:
On March 13, the President declared the COVID-19 virus outbreak a national emergency. While the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) employees continue to work both on-site and remotely, out of an abundance of caution, the RRB decided to close its 53 field offices to the public effective Monday, March 16, until further notice.
Older individuals with underlying medical conditions comprise a significant percentage of individuals who visit their local field office for assistance. Unfortunately, this same group of people are also within the group of people at high-risk of contracting the virus. The decision to close public access to field offices was made in order to mitigate the exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Limiting personal contact is the best method for combating widespread transmission of the virus for both our customers and our employees. While closed physically, these offices will continue to remain accessible by phone and email.
This regrettable situation allows for the opportunity to become better acquainted with self-service options which are available for RRB customers. These options are available 24/7. Customers can request the following documents and get the following information online by visiting myRRB at RRB.gov or by using the automated menus on the toll-free number (877-772-5772):
Letters verifying income and monthly benefits rates
Service and compensation statement
Replacement Medicare card
Duplicate tax statement (1099, 1099R)
General benefit information
RRB field office addresses
In addition, railroad employees who have established myRRB accounts can login 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
If a customer absolutely needs to talk to an RRB employee, they always have the option of connecting with a representative through the toll-free number (877-772-5772). However, customers are being asked to be patient because of the expected increase in call volume due to the office closures.
Customers also have the option of sending a secure email to their local office by accessing Field Office Locator on RRB.gov, and clicking on the link at the bottom of their servicing office’s page.
The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) has announced its schedule of pre-retirement seminars for the spring through the fall of 2020. The RRB hosts these seminars for rail employees and spouses who are within five years of retirement.
Registration is required to ensure accommodations and materials for all attendees, who are encouraged to bring original records (or certified copies) of documents required in order to file a Railroad Retirement application (such as proof of age, marriage or military service), along with an additional copy of each item to leave with field service staff.
While most of the program focuses on various aspects of Railroad Retirement benefits, each seminar closes with a brief presentation on railroad unemployment and sickness benefits to help prepare union officers for sharing reliable information with their members.
To RSVP for one of the seminars, visit the RRB website and select your local seminar from the scheduled list and follow the online registration link. To RSVP on paper, use the PDF registration form posted on the pre-retirement seminar webpage and print it and complete, then mail or fax your completed form to your local field office. Contact information for each office hosting a seminar can be found by clicking here. Online registration will be available approximately 60 days before the date of each seminar. Registration will close for any seminar that reaches capacity.
Unless otherwise noted, seminars begin at 8:30 a.m. and are held over the course of four hours. Doors open 30 minutes prior to start time. Security screening will be required for seminars hosted inside any federal buildings and photo ID will be required. No weapons are permitted in federal buildings. Please let the RRB know if you have signed up for a seminar and are unable to attend.
Dates and seminar locations:
8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. (doors open at 8 a.m.) March 27, Covina, Calif — Courtyard by Marriott, 14635 Baldwin Park Towne Center, Baldwin Park, CA PARKING FEE: $4
April 24, Plainview, N.Y. — Holiday Inn Plainview – Long Island, 215 Sunnyside Blvd.
April 24, Ashland, Neb. — Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Hwy.
May 8, Boston, Mass. — 408 Atlantic Avenue, Room 217 and 237
May 8, Lakewood, Colo. — Holiday Inn Denver – Lakewood, 7390 W. Hampden Ave.
May 15, Kansas City, Mo. — Richard Bolling Federal Building, 60 I E. 12th Street, Room G-41, (Dogwood Conference Room)
May 29, Cleveland, Ohio — Sheet Metal Workers Local 33, 12515 Corporate Drive, Cleveland, Ohio
June 5, Little Rock, Ark. — Comfort Inn & Suites Presidential, 707 Interstate 30
June 5, Totowa, N.J. — Holiday Inn, 1 US Highway 46 West
June 12, Fort Worth, Texas — Hampton Inn & Suites, Fort Worth-Fossil Creek, 3850 Sandshell Drive
June 12, Indianapolis, Ind. — LaQuinta Inn & Suites Indianapolis, S, 5120 Victory Drive
June 26 — Tinley Park, Ill. — Tinley Park Convention Center, 18451 Convention Center Drive
September 18 — Albany, N.Y. — site to be announced 60 days prior to seminar
October 23 — Philadelphia, Pa. — site to be announced 60 days prior to seminar
October 30 — Pittsburgh, Pa. — site to be announced 60 days prior to seminar
The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) is reminding its customers to use caution and common sense to avoid being the victim of a telephone or email scam. Should there be some type of issue with an individual’s account or benefits, the RRB will typically communicate with that person by sending a letter through the U.S. Postal Service. Such written notices contain contact information specific to each notice.
With the dramatic increase in “robocalls” in which automated dialing systems can disguise their source or even impersonate other numbers on caller ID, the opportunities for fraud and identity theft increase. The danger is not limited to the telephone, as scammers also use email as a means of obtaining personal information or money from unsuspecting recipients, often by impersonating a government agency.
While the RRB may request certain personal information over the phone to verify a person’s identity, RRB employees will never use threats to obtain information or demand payment in exchange for some official action. Similarly, they will not ask for a credit card number or demand payment in the form of cash, money orders or gift cards. Asking for these types of payment is typical of a fraud as these transactions are difficult to trace and often non-refundable.
If anyone pressures you to provide information or money over the phone, assume the call is fraudulent and hang up.
In addition to some of the previously described threats, emails often appear to be legitimate through use of seals or letterhead. And while misspellings or grammatical errors may indicate that an email is from a scammer, people should not assume that the lack of them makes an email legitimate.
There are steps that individuals can take to protect their personal information from fraud. These include the following:
If you get an inquiry from someone saying they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. (You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.)
Store your Social Security card in a secure location and avoid carrying it with you.
Shred documents that list personal information, including Social Security numbers, Medicare numbers, and bank/credit card information.
Maintain strong passwords for online accounts and use anti-virus software.
Avoid opening emails, links or attachments from unknown sources.
Promptly review any bank or investment account statements and notify the account manager of any unauthorized transactions as quickly as possible.
If you answer the phone and the caller — or a recording — asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
People should be particularly vigilant in the coming months, as scammers often impersonate employees of the Internal Revenue Service or state tax collection agencies during income tax season.
If you receive a suspicious phone call, simply hang up. Likewise, if you receive a questionable email, delete it without clicking on any links or opening attachments. If the caller or sender is impersonating an RRB employee, please report this behavior immediately to the RRB’s Office of Inspector General by phone at 800-772-4258 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.