A new benefit year for jobless and sickness benefits under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act begins July 1, 2010, the Railroad Retirement Board reports.

Administered by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), this law 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 pregnancy and childbirth.

The following questions and answers describe these benefits, their eligibility requirements, and how to claim them.

1. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2010?

Almost all employees will qualify for the new maximum daily benefit rate of $66, which increased from $64 under indexing provisions reflecting the growth in average national wages. Benefits are generally payable for days of unemployment or sickness in excess of four in biweekly claim periods, which yields $660 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. However, sickness benefits resulting from other than on-the-job injuries are subject to tier I Railroad Retirement payroll taxes for the first six months after the employee last worked.

2. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in the new benefit year?

To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,325 in calendar year 2009, counting no more than $1,330 for any month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2009 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2009.

Under certain conditions, employees with 120 or more months of railroad service who do not qualify on the basis of their 2009 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with 120 or more months of service who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2010, may be eligible for extended benefits, and employees with 120 or more months of service might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have rail earnings of at least $3,325 in 2010, not counting earnings of more than $1,330 a 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 either unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and be under age 65 when claiming sickness benefits.

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 2009, counting earnings up to $1,718 per month.

If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during 7 consecutive registration periods) to employees with 10 or more years of service.

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

Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods. Initial sickness claims must also begin with four consecutive days of sickness. However, during the first 14-day claim period in a benefit year, benefits are only payable for each day of unemployment or sickness in excess of seven which, in effect, provides a one-week waiting period. (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.) 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 payable for days of unemployment during 14-day claim periods after the first claim period, but no benefits are payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike.

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 or paid leave, in a 14-day claim period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That claim, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.

Earnings include pay from railroad and nonrailroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for a 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 2010 the indexed amount is $1,330, which corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in the new benefit 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.

9. How does a person apply for, as well as claim, unemployment benefits?

Claimants can file their applications for unemployment benefits, as well as their subsequent biweekly claims, by mail or online.

To apply by mail, claimants must obtain an application from their labor organization, employer, local RRB office or the agency’s web site at www.rrb.gov. The completed application should be mailed to the local RRB office as soon as possible and, in any case, must be filed within 30 days of the date on which 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.

To file their applications — or their biweekly claims — online, claimants must first establish an RRB Internet Services account. For security purposes, first time users must apply for a Password
Request Code, which they will receive by mail in about 10 business days. To do this, they should click on “Benefit Online Services” and select “request a PRC.” Once they establish their online accounts, they will be able to file their applications and biweekly claims for unemployment benefits as well as conduct other business with the RRB over the Internet. Employees are encouraged to establish online accounts while still employed so the account is ready if they ever need to apply for these benefits or use other select RRB Internet services. Employees who have already established online accounts do not need to do so again.

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

After the RRB office processes the application, biweekly claim forms are mailed to the claimant, and are also made available on the RRB’s web site, as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. The time for filing a claim is 15 days from the last day of the claim period or 15 days from the date the claim form is mailed to the claimant or made available online, whichever is later. Claimants should not file both a paper claim and an online claim for the same period.

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

10. How does a person apply for sickness benefits?

An application for sickness benefits can be obtained from railroad labor organizations, railroad employers, any RRB office or the agency’s web site. An application and a doctor’s statement of sickness are 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 no claims can be paid without it.

The RRB suggests that employees keep an application on hand for use in claiming sickness benefits, 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 then have his or her doctor complete the statement of sickness. (Employees should note that they must indicate on the application whether they are applying for sickness benefits because they were injured at work or have a work-related illness. They must also indicate whether they have filed or expect to file a lawsuit or claim against a third-party for personal injury. 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 do so. In such cases, a family member should also complete the “Statement of Authority to Act for Employee,” which accompanies the statement of sickness.

After completion, the forms should be mailed to the RRB’s headquarters in Chicago by the seventh day of the illness or injury for which benefits are claimed. 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. After the RRB receives the application and statement of sickness and determines eligibility, biweekly claim forms are mailed to the claimant for completion and return to an RRB field office for processing. The 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 mailed to the claimant, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim is filed late.

Although claimants cannot currently file applications or biweekly claims for railroad sickness benefits over the Internet, the RRB is planning to add the online filing of sickness claims in the future.

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

The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act requires the RRB to notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time a claim for benefits is filed, and to give that employer an opportunity to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. In addition, 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 successful.

The RRB also checks with other Federal 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, a decision will be made within 10 days of the date the application was filed. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, a decision will be made within 10 days of the date the RRB received the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, benefits will generally be paid within one week of that decision.

However, some claims for benefits may take longer to handle than others if they are more complex, or if an RRB office has to get information from other people or organizations. If this happens, claimants may expect an explanation and an estimate of the time required to make a decision.

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. With Direct Deposit, benefit payments are made electronically 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. Waivers are available to individuals who determine that Direct Deposit would cause a hardship, and to individuals without bank accounts.

14. Can claimants access information online about their railroad unemployment and sickness benefit payments?

Claimants can access information about their individual railroad unemployment insurance account statements via the Internet. These account statements provide a summary of the unemployment and sickness benefits paid under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act to rail employees. This online service, called “RUIA Account Statement,” displays the type and amount of a claimant’s last five benefit payments, the claim period for which the payments were made, and the dates that the payments were approved. Claimants can also confirm the RRB’s receipt of their latest application or claim for unemployment or sickness benefits, along with the receipt of any supplemental doctor’s statement
required to continue the payment of sickness benefits. In addition, the service allows claimants to view the address currently on record for them and, if applicable, their Direct Deposit information.

To use this service, claimants must establish an Internet Services account, as described in the answer to question 9.

15. How can claimants receive more information on railroad unemployment or sickness benefits?

Claimants with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits should contact an RRB office by calling toll free at (877) 772-5772. Claimants can also find the address of the RRB office serving their area and get information about their claims and benefit payments by calling this toll-free number. Most RRB offices are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays. Field office locations can also be found by visiting www.rrb.gov.

Railroad workers should be aware that in addition to retirement annuities based on age and service, the Railroad Retirement Act also provides disability annuities for workers who become totally or occupationally disabled. Medicare coverage before age 65 is also available for totally disabled employees and those suffering from chronic kidney disease, according to the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB).

The following questions and answers describe the disability benefits available from the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), their requirements and how to apply for them.

1. I’ve been working for a railroad for over 30 years. I’m only 52 but my health has been deteriorating and I don’t think I can work until I’m 60 and eligible for a retirement annuity based on age. What benefits could I be eligible for?

You may be eligible for benefits based either on total disability or occupational disability.

A total disability annuity is based on permanent disability for all employment and is payable at any age to employees with at least 10 years of railroad service, and under certain conditions to employees with 5 years of service after 1995.

An occupational disability annuity is based on disability for the employee’s regular railroad occupation and is payable at age 60 if the employee has 10 years of service, or at any age if the employee has at least 20 years of service. A “current connection with the railroad industry” is also required for an occupational disability annuity. The current connection requirement is normally met if the employee worked for a railroad in at least 12 of the last 30 consecutive months immediately preceding the annuity beginning date.

2. How do I apply for disability benefits?

To receive disability benefits you must file an application at one of the RRB’s field offices. You can be in compensated service while filing a disability application as long as the compensated service terminates within 90 days from the date of filing and the compensated service is not active service.

To expedite filing for a disability annuity, you or a family member should call or write an RRB field office to schedule an appointment. For the appointment, bring in any medical evidence in your possession and any medical records you can secure from your treating physicians. If you are receiving workers’ compensation or public disability benefits, notice of such payments must be submitted. In addition, proof of your age and proof of any military service credit claimed and a description of your past work activity will also be required.

If you are unable to personally visit an RRB office or meet an agency representative at a customer outreach program service location, you may request special assistance, such as having an RRB representative come to a hospital or your home.

3. I understand there are companies that will help me with the disability benefit application process, usually for a fee. Should I take advantage of these services?

We can’t advise you whether or not to hire any company or individual to help you file a disability application, however, there is certainly no requirement that you do so and there is usually no need to. There are RRB field offices located throughout the country trained to assist you in filing for a disability application at no cost to you. RRB personnel are the best resource available to assist disabled employees with their applications and advise them on how to obtain any additional medical evidence required or any other necessary documents or records. In fact, any time you need information or assistance, you should contact an RRB field office. In addition to the personal attention you will receive, special booklets and other printed materials are available. If you have a question about your benefits, you can speak to an RRB representative by calling the agency toll-free at (877) 772-5772 from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you leave a message, your call will generally be returned within the next two business days.

4. Am I required to tell my employer that I am filing for disability benefits?

No, you are not required to inform your employer that you are filing for disability benefits. This is a private matter between you and the RRB. However, when a railroad employee files for an occupational disability annuity, a letter is sent to the employer seeking information about your jobs with that employer. Also, monthly summaries of benefits awarded are routinely sent to those employers who have requested them.

5. How do the standards for total disability and occupational disability differ?

An employee is considered to be totally disabled if medical evidence shows a permanent physical and/or mental impairment preventing the performance of any regular and gainful work. A condition is considered to be permanent if it has lasted or may be expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death.

An employee is considered to be occupationally disabled if a physical and/or mental impairment prevents the employee from performing the duties of his or her regular railroad occupation, even though the employee may be able to perform other kinds of work. An employee’s regular occupation is generally that particular work he or she has performed for hire in more calendar months than any other work during the last 5 years, or that work which was performed for hire in at least one-half of all the months in which the employee worked for hire during the last 15 years.

6. What medical evidence will I be required to submit if I file for a railroad retirement disability annuity?

If you file for a disability annuity, you will be required to submit medical evidence supporting your claim. You may furnish medical evidence in three ways:

  1. You will be given a report form for your personal physician to complete. In this way the RRB can get information about your condition from the medical source that knows you best.
  2. You will be asked to sign an authorization to release to the RRB any hospital, clinic, or employer medical records about your condition.
  3. The RRB may ask you to be examined at the agency’s expense if more evidence is needed to:
  • Obtain more detailed or specialized medical findings about your condition, or
  • Resolve conflicts or differences in the evidence already on file.

7. What are acceptable sources of medical evidence?

The following are acceptable sources of medical evidence:

  • Licensed physicians
  • Licensed osteopaths
  • Licensed or certified psychologists
  • Licensed optometrists
  • Persons authorized to send copies or summaries of the medical records of hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, medical institutions, or health care facilities.

Also, information from other sources can sometimes be important to a decision about your ability to work, such as:

  • Public and private social welfare agencies
  • Observations by non-medical sources (for instance, a vocational consultant)
  • Other practitioners (naturopaths, chiropractors, audiologists, etc.)

Sometimes the RRB will not be able to make a decision on your application without obtaining additional information. If so, an RRB representative will contact you by telephone or mail. You may be asked to send in the additional forms, proofs, or statements that are needed. You may also be asked to report for a medical examination.

It is in your best interest to fully cooperate if medical or other evidence is needed so that the decision on your claim is made as quickly as possible and based on the best information available.

If you fail to submit medical evidence that is needed and requested, a decision will be made on the evidence available. Also, if you fail or refuse to report without good cause for an examination schedu
led and paid for by the RRB, it may be decided that you are not disabled.

8. Are copies of my disability application and medical evidence provided to my employer?

No. Federal law prohibits the release of this information to your employer without your written authorization. Your application for disability benefits and any medical evidence submitted in support of your claim are handled and maintained with strict attention to confidence and privacy by RRB personnel.

9. What happens after the RRB receives my application and medical evidence?

After the RRB receives your completed application and all the needed evidence, the agency will decide if you are entitled to disability benefits.

If you are not entitled to disability benefits, the RRB will send you a notice explaining:

  • Why you cannot receive disability benefits, and
  • What you can do if you disagree with the reason you cannot receive them.

If you are entitled to disability benefits, you will receive a notice that shows the amount of your monthly payments and other information about your benefits.

10. How soon after filing my application can I expect a decision?

Under the RRB’s Customer Service Plan standards, the agency will make a decision on your application within 100 days of the date you filed your application.

It should be noted that processing applications for disability benefits is more complex than other benefits due to the need to develop medical evidence. When you file an application for disability benefits, RRB field office staff will provide you with additional information on processing times for decisions and payments.

11. If the RRB decides that I am eligible for disability benefits, can my employer contest that decision?

No, employers cannot contest the RRB’s decision to award disability benefits to an individual.

12. Could early Medicare coverage be available to me if I’m rated disabled by the RRB?

Medicare coverage before age 65 may begin after a totally disabled employee has been entitled to a disability annuity for at least 24 months. There is no 24-month waiting period for those who have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Many employees who are disabled for all employment but are otherwise qualified for an occupational disability annuity are initially awarded occupational disability annuities in order to expedite payment. The fact that you are initially awarded an occupational disability annuity does not preclude early Medicare coverage, if your physical and/or mental condition is such that you are totally and permanently disabled.

Over 70 percent of all employees awarded disability annuities will meet the medical criteria for what is called a disability freeze determination. The standards for freeze determinations follow social security law and are comparable to the criteria for granting total and permanent disability. Also, if you are granted a disability freeze you may qualify for early Medicare coverage and lower Federal income taxes on your annuity.

It should also be noted that Medicare coverage on the basis of kidney disease requiring dialysis or a kidney transplant is available not only to employee annuitants, but also to employees who have not retired but meet certain minimum service requirements, as well as spouses and dependent children. For those suffering from chronic kidney disease, coverage may begin with the third month after dialysis treatment begins, or earlier under certain conditions. However, applications by rail employees for early Medicare coverage on the basis of kidney disease must be filed with an office of the Social Security Administration, rather than the Railroad Retirement Board.

The 75th anniversary of the enactment of the Railroad Retirement Act of 1935 is being observed during 2010. Part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, the Act was signed into law on August 29, 1935, the Railroad Retirement Board reports.

It was in the rail industry that the first formal industrial pension plan in North America was established in 1874. By 1925, more than three-fourths of all railroad workers in the United States were covered by pension plans. However, relatively few employees actually received benefits under these plans, and during the Great Depression of the 1930s the plans had difficulty meeting their obligations.

Older workers consequently exercised seniority rights to continue working, and accounted for a disproportionate number of the industry’s employees. Railway labor sought legislation to continue railroad pensions as part of a reliable and equitable national program.

Legislation was enacted in 1934, 1935 and 1937 to establish a railroad retirement system separate from the social security program enacted in 1935. The social security program would not credit past service and was not scheduled to begin monthly benefit payments until the 1940s. Legislation taking into account the particular circumstances of the rail industry was not without precedent.

Numerous laws pertaining to rail operations and safety had already been enacted since the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. Since passage of the Railroad Retirement Acts of the 1930s, numerous other railroad laws have been enacted.

The 1934 Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and the 1935 Act was also challenged in the Courts. Nonetheless, the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) made its first annuity payments 11 months after passage of the 1935 legislation.

While an appeal was pending, railroad management and labor, at the urging of President Roosevelt, resolved their differences in a memorandum of agreement which led to the Railroad Retirement and Carriers’ Taxing Acts of 1937. In July 1937, the benefit payments of almost 50,000 pensioners were taken over by the RRB and by the end of 1938, almost 100,000 employees had retired under the system.

This legislation set up a staff retirement plan providing annuities based on an employee’s creditable railroad earnings and service. Annuities could be paid at age 65 or later, regardless of length of service, or at ages 60-64 (on a reduced basis) after 30 years of service. Disability benefits were payable after 30 years of service or at age 60.

Numerous amendments after 1937 increased benefits and added benefits for dependents. Amendments enacted in 1946 and 1951 added survivor and spouse benefits, liberalized disability benefit requirements and established jurisdictional coordination with the Social Security Administration.

In addition, a financial interchange was established between the two systems to equitably apportion the costs of benefits and taxes based on rail service. This financial interchange, which ensures that the Social Security Trust Funds neither gain nor lose from the existence of the railroad retirement system, became an integral source of railroad retirement funding in subsequent decades.

In 1965, the financial interchange served as an operating vehicle through which the Medicare program was extended to railroad retirement beneficiaries.

The recurring inflation and recession in the national economy during the 1970s and 1980s created formidable actuarial problems for pension systems, particularly those providing substantial cost-of-living protection for beneficiaries. Railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, were increased by an aggregate of 52 percent between 1970 and 1972 alone.

The cost of these increases jeopardized the solvency of the system and Congress directed that a Commission on Railroad Retirement study the system and its financing for the purpose of recommending changes that would ensure adequate benefit levels on an actuarially sound basis.

Following the commission’s study, railway labor and management proposed a restructuring of the railroad retirement system that was enacted into law as the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974. The 1974 Act provided a two-tier system with a first tier formula yielding amounts equivalent to social security benefits, taking into account both railroad retirement and nonrailroad social security credits.

A second tier formula, based on railroad service exclusively, provided benefits comparable to those paid over and above social security benefits by other industrial pension systems. The Act eliminated duplications in dual railroad retirement-social security benefits for new hires and individuals not vested as of December 31, 1974, under both programs, but protected the equities of employees vested for dual benefits before 1975.

It was anticipated that the changes in the benefit formulas, the reduction in dual benefits, higher investment earnings, plus provisions for additional funds from the Federal Government to pay the phase-out costs of dual benefits would place the railroad retirement system on a reasonably sound basis.

However, neither industry nor government at that time anticipated the resurgence of double digit inflation in the latter part of the 1970s and the recession of 1981. Financial amendments were subsequently enacted in 1981 as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and in 1983 under the Railroad Retirement Solvency Act.

These amendments raised retirement taxes, deferred cost-of-living increases, reduced early retirement benefits, limited future vested dual benefits, and subjected annuities to Federal income tax. These amendments also simplified benefit formulas, provided protection for divorced spouses and remarried widow(er)s, liberalized the current connection requirement for career employee benefits, and increased benefits for disabled widow(er)s and employees with military service.

Legislation in 1988 liberalized work restrictions and the crediting of military service in certain cases. It also provided more equitable treatment of separation or severance pay for railroad retirement purposes.

In 2001, the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act, the most significant railroad retirement legislation in almost 20 years, and the first in almost three decades not to involve tax increases or benefit reductions, was signed into law. The benefit and financing provisions of the legislation, like those of most previous railroad retirement legislation, were based on joint recommendations negotiated by a coalition of rail freight carriers and rail labor organizations.

The Act liberalized early retirement benefits for 30-year employees and their spouses, eliminated a cap on monthly retirement and disability benefits, lowered the minimum service requirement from 10 years to 5-9 years, if at least 5 years were after 1995, and provided increased benefits for some widow(er)s. Financing sections in the law provided for adjustments in the payroll tax rates paid by employers and employees, and the repeal of a supplemental annuity work-hour tax.

The legislation also created the National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust, which manages and invests railroad retirement funds in non-governmental assets, as well as in governmental securities.

The railroad unemployment insurance system was also established in the 1930s. While the State unemployment programs first provided in 1935 generally covered railroad workers, railroad operations which crossed State lines caused special problems.

Unemployed railroad workers were denied compensation by one State because they became unemployed while working in another State or because their employer had paid unemployment taxes in another State. Although there were cases where employees appeared to be covered in more than one State, they often did not qualify in any.

A National Security Commission reporting on the nationwide State unemployment plans recomm
ended that railroad workers be covered by a separate plan because of the complications their coverage had caused the State plans. Congress subsequently enacted the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act in 1938, which established a system of benefits for unemployed railroad workers, plus a free placement service, financed by a payroll tax payable by employers. Benefits became payable on July 1, 1939.

Amendments enacted in 1946 increased the maximum daily benefit rate and the maximum duration to 26 weeks. They also provided sickness benefits; at that time, only two states, Rhode Island and California, had sickness plans.

Amendments enacted in the 1950s raised the maximum daily benefit rate in stages, provided extended unemployment benefits for 13 weeks to employees with at least 10 years of service and 26 weeks of extended benefits to 15-year employees. In 1968, legislation increased the daily benefit rate and provided extended benefits for sickness on essentially the same basis as for unemployment.

Amendments in 1975 increased the maximum daily benefit rate and liberalized the basic eligibility requirements for new employees by lowering the 7-month base-year service requirement to 5 months. In addition, the 1975 amendments mandated a 7-day waiting period for benefit payments resulting from strikes. The tax rate schedule was increased, starting in 1976, depending on the balance in the account, in order to finance the increased benefits. This legislation also lowered the waiting period for sickness benefits.

The national economic recession of the early 1980s caused large-scale railroad layoffs. The layoffs increased unemployment benefit payments to record levels which far exceeded unemployment tax income and necessitated high levels of loans from the Railroad Retirement Account. The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Account owed the Railroad Retirement Account a peak amount of over $850 million at the end of fiscal year 1986.

Financial measures to assist the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Account were included in the Railroad Retirement Solvency Act enacted in 1983.

The Solvency Act raised the taxable limit on monthly earnings and the base-year qualifying amount. The waiting period for benefits during strikes was increased from 7 to 14 days. A temporary repayment tax on railroad employers was scheduled to begin July 1, 1986, to initiate repayment of loans made by the Railroad Retirement Account. Sickness benefits, other than those resulting from on-the-job injuries, were made subject to Federal income tax.

The legislation also mandated the establishment of a Railroad Unemployment Compensation Committee to review the unemployment and sickness benefits programs and submit a report to Congress.

Legislation in 1986 amended the repayment tax and provided for an automatic surtax on rail employers if further borrowing took place.

In 1988, the most significant railroad unemployment insurance legislation in decades was enacted. Based on the recommendations of the Railroad Unemployment Compensation Committee, the Railroad Unemployment Insurance and Retirement Improvement Act of 1988 increased the railroad unemployment and sickness daily benefit rate, and indexed future benefit rates and qualifying earnings requirements to national wage levels.

This legislation improved the railroad unemployment insurance system’s financing by indexing the tax base to increased wage levels, experience rating employer contributions and assuring repayment of the system’s debt to the Railroad Retirement Account. In June 1993, the $180 million loan balance was repaid in its entirety from cash reserves in the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Account and the loan repayment tax was terminated.

The 1988 amendments also required the RRB to make annual financial reports to Congress on the status of the unemployment insurance system. The reports have been favorable.

Legislation enacted in 1996 increased the railroad unemployment and sickness insurance daily benefit rate and revised the formula for indexing future benefit rates. It also reduced the waiting period for initial benefit payments and eliminated duplicate waiting periods in continuing periods of unemployment and sickness.

In addition, the legislation applied an earnings test to claims for unemployment and reduced the duration of extended benefit periods for long-service employees.

By the beginning of the 2010 anniversary year, railroad retirement benefits of $281 billion had been paid by the RRB to 2,000,000 retired employees, 1,100,000 spouses and 2,400,000 survivors; unemployment and sickness benefits had totaled some $8 billion.

The first retirement annuities awarded under the 1935 Railroad Retirement Act averaged $60 a month and no monthly benefits were payable to spouses or survivors. Currently, employee annuity awards average about $2,700 a month, annuities for spouses average over $900 a month, and annuities to aged and disabled widow(er)s just over $1,700 a month.

In 2010, nearly 600,000 beneficiaries will receive retirement and survivor benefits of about $11 billion, and about 42,000 persons will receive unemployment and sickness benefits of about $300 million.

Originally headquartered in Washington, D.C., the RRB was moved during World War II to the railroad crossroad of the nation, Chicago, Ill. Since 1942, the agency’s headquarters have been at 844 N. Rush Street, just north of the Chicago Loop. The RRB also maintains field offices across the country in railroad localities.

Established in a time of national crisis, and periodically challenged during the past 75 years, the railroad retirement system has nonetheless continued to serve railroad employees and their families through programs affording protection against the economic hazards of old age, disability, unemployment and sickness.

(This item was distributed April 13, 2010, by the Railroad Retirement Board.)

The following questions and answers discuss the Railroad Retirement Board’s performance in the key areas of retirement applications, survivor applications, disability applications and payments, and railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims during fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2008 – September 30, 2009).

Included are the customer service performance goals the RRB set for fiscal year 2009 in its Annual Performance Plan. These goals are revised annually based on such factors as projected workloads and available resources. Also included is information on the RRB’s overall performance, as measured by the timeliness index developed by the agency.

1. How does the RRB measure overall timeliness for customer service?

The RRB developed an index to measure the overall timeliness of its customer service in four benefit areas: retirement applications; survivor applications; disability applications and payments; and railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims. This composite indicator, based on a weighted average, allows for a more concise and meaningful presentation of its customer service efforts in these benefit areas.

2. How timely, overall, was the customer service provided by the RRB in fiscal year 2009, as measured by this timeliness index?

During fiscal year 2009, the overall benefit timeliness index stood at 99.2 percent. This means that the RRB provided benefit services within the time frames promised in the Customer Service Plan 99.2 percent of the time. More detailed performance information for specific benefit areas is presented in the questions and answers that follow.

3. What standards were used by the RRB in fiscal year 2009 for processing applications for railroad retirement employee or spouse annuities and how well did it meet those standards?

Under the RRB’s standards, if you filed an application for a railroad retirement employee or spouse annuity in advance, the RRB will make a decision to pay or deny the application within 35 days of the beginning date of your annuity. If you have not filed in advance, the RRB will make a decision within 60 days of the date you filed your application.

Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2009, the RRB made a decision within 35 days of their annuity beginning date on 94.53 percent of employee and 95.21 percent of spouse applicants who filed in advance. Taking these employee and spouse cases together, 94.86 percent of this group met the agency’s standard for fiscal year 2009. Average processing times for employee and spouse applications were 17.5 and 12 days, respectively; the combined average processing time for these cases was 15 days.

Also, of the cases processed, the RRB made a decision within 60 days of their filing dates on 98 percent of employee and 96.4 percent of spouse applicants who had not filed in advance. Taken together, 97 percent of these cases met the agency’s standard. In these cases, the average processing times for employee and spouse applications were 22.1 and 20.7 days, respectively; the combined average processing time was 21 days.

The RRB’s goals in fiscal year 2009 were 92.75 and 96.8 percent timeliness, respectively, for those filing in advance and those not filing in advance.

4. What standards were used in the area of survivor benefits in fiscal year 2009?

Under the standards, if you filed for a railroad retirement survivor annuity and you were not already receiving benefits as a spouse, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer your application to the Social Security Administration within 60 days of the beginning date of your annuity or the date the application is filed (whichever is later). If you are already receiving a spouse annuity, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer your application for a survivor annuity to the Social Security Administration within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death. If you filed for a lump-sum death benefit, the RRB will make a decision on your application within 60 days of the date the application is filed.

Of the cases considered during fiscal year 2009, the RRB made a decision within 60 days of the later of the annuity beginning date or the date the application was filed on 94.4 percent of the applications for an initial survivor annuity. In cases where the survivor was already receiving a spouse annuity, a decision was made within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death in 95.4 percent of the cases. In addition, a decision was made within 60 days of the date the application was filed on 97.43 percent of the applications for a lump-sum death benefit. Average processing time for all applications for recurring monthly benefits (initial survivor applications and spouse to survivor conversions) was 17.8 days. The average processing time for lump-sum death benefit applications was 11.5 days.

The goals for fiscal year 2009 were 94 and 95.1 percent timeliness, respectively, for processing initial survivor applications and spouse to survivor conversions. For processing applications for lump-sum death benefits, the goal was 97.25 percent.

5. What standards were used by the RRB in fiscal year 2009 for processing applications for disability annuities under the Railroad Retirement Act?

Under the Customer Service Plan, if you filed for a disability annuity, the RRB will make a decision within 100 days of the date you filed your application. If it is determined that you are entitled to disability benefits, you will receive your first payment within 25 days of the date of the RRB’s decision, or the earliest payment date, whichever is later.

Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2009, the RRB made a decision within 100 days of the date they filed an application on 62.5 percent of those filing for a disability annuity. The average processing time was 97 days. Of those entitled to disability benefits, 96.5 percent received their first payment within the Customer Service Plan’s time frame. Average processing time was 9 days.

The agency’s goals were 70 percent and 95 percent timeliness, respectively, for disability decisions and disability payments.

6. What were the standards for the handling of applications and claims for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits and how well did the RRB meet these standards?

Under the standards, if you filed an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving your application. If you filed a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will certify a payment or a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives your claim form.

During fiscal year 2009, 99.5 percent of unemployment benefit applications sampled for timeliness and 99.34 percent of sickness benefit applications processed met the RRB’s standard. Average processing times for unemployment and sickness benefit applications were 0.4 and 3 days, respectively.

In addition, 99.8 percent of subsequent claims processed for unemployment and sickness benefits met the RRB’s standard for fiscal year 2009. The average processing time for claims was 4 days.

The agency’s goals for processing unemployment and sickness applications in fiscal year 2009 were 99.5 percent timely for unemployment applications and 99.25 percent timely for sickness applications. The payment or decision goal for subsequent claims was 99.8 percent timeliness.

7. How did the RRB’s performance in meeting its standards in fiscal year 2009 compare to its performance in fiscal year 2008?

Fiscal year 2009 performance met or exceeded fiscal year 2008 performance in the areas of employee and spouse applications (whether filed in advance or not), initial survivor applications, spouse to survivor conversions, lump-sum death benefits, unemployment and sick
ness benefit applications and claims, and disability payments. Average processing times in fiscal year 2009 equaled or improved fiscal year 2008 processing times in the areas of unemployment benefit applications and unemployment and sickness benefit claims. Also, for fiscal year 2009, the agency met or exceeded all of the customer service performance goals it had set for the year in its Annual Performance Plan with the exception of disability applications.

8. Can beneficiaries provide feedback to the RRB about the service they receive?

A Customer Assessment Survey form is available in every field office allowing beneficiaries to evaluate the service they received and suggest how the agency can improve its service. Persons not satisfied with the service they received may contact the manager of the office with which they have been dealing.

(The preceding release was issued by the Railroad Retirement Board on January 20, 2010.)