Railroad Retirement Board Benefits
Most railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, will increase in January 2019 due to a rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2017 to the corresponding period of the current year.
Cost-of-living increases are calculated in both the tier I and tier II benefits included in a railroad retirement annuity. Tier I benefits, like social security benefits, will increase by 2.8 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will go up by 0.9 percent, which is 32.5 percent of the CPI increase. Vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) are not adjusted for the CPI change.
In January 2019, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $60 a month to $2,808 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $86 a month to $4,078. For those aged widow(er)s eligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $34 a month to $1,398. However, widow(er)s whose annuities are being paid under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001 will not receive annual cost-of-living adjustments until their annuity amount is exceeded by the amount that would have been paid under prior law, counting all interim cost-of-living increases otherwise payable. Some 52 percent of the widow(er)s on the RRB’s rolls are being paid under the 2001 law.
If a railroad retirement or survivor annuitant also receives a social security or other government benefit, such as a public service pension, the increased tier I benefit is reduced by the increased government benefit. Tier II cost-of-living increases are not reduced by increases in other government benefits. If a widow(er) whose annuity is being paid under the 2001 law is also entitled to an increased government benefit, her or his railroad retirement survivor annuity may decrease.
However, the total amount of the combined railroad retirement widow(er)’s annuity and other government benefits will not be less than the total payable before the cost-of-living increase and any increase in Medicare premium deductions.
The cost-of-living increase follows a tier I increase of 2.0 percent in January 2018, which had been the largest in 6 years. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced the Medicare Part B premiums for 2019, and this information is available at Medicare.gov.
In late December the RRB will mail notices to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2019.
If you do not meet these requirements but have at least 10 years of service, you might still be able to qualify under the conditions described for extended and accelerated benefits.
View RRB FAQ's
Comparison of Benefits Under Railroad Retirement and Social Security
Employers and employees covered by the Railroad Retirement Act pay higher retirement taxes than those covered by the Social Security Act, so that railroad retirement benefits remain higher than social security benefits, especially for “career” employees who have 30 or more years of service.
What follows are questions and answers that show the differences in railroad retirement and social security benefits payable at the close of the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018. They also show the differences in age requirements and payroll taxes under the two systems. View Q&A here...
July 8, 2014 Update from the RRB Labor Member
Railroad Retirement Board General Counsel's Opinion regarding Creditable Service
June 17, 2014
A question was presented to the RRB regarding an injured employee who requested and received payment for a vacation day in a month while off sick. The employee contended that payment of the vacation day should be considered creditable compensation under the Act and should, therefore, count as a qualifying month of railroad service for retirement. However, the Carrier's position was that payment of the vacation day was merely for timekeeping purposes and was not compensation for service rendered. The RRB General Counsel sustained the employee's position and generally opined that vacation and holiday pay constitutes creditable service even if that is the only compensation paid in the month.
"A payment made by an employer to an individual through an employer's payroll shall be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, to be compensation for service rendered by such individual as an employee of the employer in the period with respect to which the payment is made." 45 USC 231(h)(l). Board regulations further specify that creditable compensation includes vacation pay (20 CFR §211.2(b)(4)) and state, "Payments made to an employee with respect to vacation or holidays shall be considered creditable compensation whether or not the employee takes the vacation or holiday." 20 CFR §211.4.
View President Simpson's letter and legal opinion from RRB
The following questions and answers describe RRB benefits, eligibility requirements, and how to claim them.
1. What are the eligibility requirements for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits in July 2017?
To qualify for normal railroad unemployment or sickness benefits, an employee must have had railroad earnings of at least $3,637.50 in calendar year 2016, counting no more than $1,455 for any month. Those who were first employed in the rail industry in 2016 must also have at least five months of creditable railroad service in 2016.
Under certain conditions, employees who do not qualify on the basis of their 2016 earnings may still be able to receive benefits in the new benefit year. Employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) who received normal benefits in the benefit year ending June 30, 2017, may be eligible for extended benefits, and employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more months of service) might qualify for accelerated benefits if they have rail earnings of at least $3,637.50 in 2017, not counting earnings of more than $1,455 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 unemployment or sickness; not have voluntarily retired or, if claiming unemployment benefits, quit work without good cause; and, when claiming sickness benefits, be under age 65.
2. What is the daily benefit rate payable in the new benefit year beginning July 1, 2017?
Almost all employees will qualify for the maximum daily benefit rate of $72. Benefits are generally payable for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day claim periods, which yields $720 for each two full weeks of unemployment or sickness. Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury. (Claimants should be aware that as a result of a sequestration order under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the RRB will reduce unemployment and sickness benefits by 6.9 percent through September 30, 2017. As a result, the total maximum amount payable in a 2-week period covering 10 days of unemployment or sickness will be $670.32. The maximum amount payable for sickness benefits subject to tier I payroll taxes of 7.65 percent will be $619.04 over two weeks. Future reductions, should they occur, will be calculated based on applicable law.)
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 2016, counting earnings up to $1,879 per month.
If normal benefits are exhausted, extended benefits are payable for up to 65 days (during 7 consecutive 14-day claim periods) to employees with at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months).
4. What is the waiting-period requirement for unemployment and sickness benefits?
Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day registration 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 not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods.
If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first two weeks of the strike.
While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if a worker subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.
6. Can employees in train and engine service receive unemployment benefits for days when they are standing by or laying over between scheduled runs?
No, not if they are standing by or laying over between regularly assigned trips or they missed a turn in pool service.
7. Can extra-board employees receive unemployment benefits between jobs?
Yes, but only if the miles and/or hours they actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in their class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on the employee’s earnings.
8. How would an employee’s earnings in a claim period affect his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits?
If a claimant’s earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave, or other leave in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period.
Earnings include pay from railroad and nonrailroad work, as well as part-time work and self-employment. Earnings also include pay that an employee would have earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because he or she missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that begins July 2017, the amount is $1,455, which corresponds to the base year monthly compensation amount used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.
On the other hand, earnings of no more than $15 a day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must be sure to report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine whether the work affects benefits.
9. How does a person apply for and 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 website. 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 online account at www.rrb.gov. Instructions on how to do so are available by visiting the Benefit Online Services section of the RRB’s website. 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 field 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 available on the RRB’s website, as long as he or she remains unemployed and eligible for benefits. Claim forms should be signed and sent on or after the last day of the claim. This can be done by mail or electronically. The completed claim must be received by an RRB office within 15 days of the end of the claim or the date the claim form was mailed to the claimant or made available online, whichever is later. Claimants must not file both a paper claim and an online claim form for the same period(s).
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 office within 30 days of the first day for which he or she wants to resume claiming benefits. These claims may then be filed by mail or online.
10. How does a person apply for and claim sickness benefits?
An application for sickness benefits can be obtained from railroad labor organizations, railroad employers, any RRB office or the agency’s website. 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 Form SI-10, 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 RRB also makes claim forms available for completion online by those employees who establish an online account. 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 or made available online, whichever is later. Benefits may be lost if an application or claim is filed late.
Claimants are reminded that while claim forms for sickness benefits can be submitted online, applications must be returned to the RRB by mail. Doctors’ statements of sickness can be submitted by mail or fax. Faxes must include a cover sheet from the doctor’s office.
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. That employer has the right to submit information relevant to the claim before the RRB makes an initial determination on the claim. In addition, if a claimant’s base-year employer is not his or her current employer, the claimant’s current employer is also notified. The RRB must also notify the claimant’s base-year employer each time benefits are paid to a claimant. The base-year employer may protest the decision to pay benefits. Such a protest does not prevent the timely payment of benefits. However, a claimant may be required to repay benefits if the employer’s protest is ultimately successful. The employer also has the right to appeal an unfavorable decision to the RRB’s Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.
The RRB also conducts checks with other 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 filed an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving his or her application. If a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits is filed, the RRB will certify a payment or release a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives the claim form. If the claimant is entitled to benefits, 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 the U.S. Treasury’s Direct Deposit program. 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.
14. How can claimants get more information on railroad unemployment or sickness benefits?
Claimants with questions about unemployment or sickness benefits, or who are seeking information about their claims and benefit payments, can speak with a field service representative by calling toll-free (1-877-772-5772). Claimants can also obtain a summary of the unemployment and sickness benefits paid to them through the login required service menu of Benefit Online Services. This feature, called View RUIA Account Statement, is available to claimants who have established an RRB online account.
Persons can find the address of their local RRB field office through Field Office Locator or by using the automated service menu, which is available when calling toll-free. Most RRB field offices are open to the public on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., except on Wednesdays when offices are open from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. All RRB offices are closed on Federal holidays.
2010 Benefit Rate Increase for Railroad Unemployment and Sickness Benefits
The maximum daily benefit rate payable for claims under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act increases to $66 from $64 in the new benefit year, which begins July 1, 2010. Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over four in 14-day registration periods, so maximum benefits for biweekly claims will total $660. Read More...
July 7, 2010 The Labor Member from the Railroad Retirement Board writes to BMWED President Simpson, announcing his personal retirement. Read Letter...
April 12, 2010 The Railroad Retirement System: Its First Seventy-Five Years. 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. Read More...
March 15, 2010 Correspondence dated March 15, 2010, from Railroad Retirement Board Labor Member Butch Speakman to BMWED President Simpson, wherein he provides the estimated financial impact of Brother Friend’s proposed changes to the Railroad Retirement Act on the Trust Fund. In a nutshell, the retirement age ain't getting lowered.
December 15, 2009 Correspondence from the General Counsel's office of the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) concerning retirement credits for vacation pay of workers in furlough status. The National Agreement provides furloughed workers the ability to take vacation in one day increments. The RRB states "it is permissible for employees on furlough to decline to take an actual vacation and instead, choose to take vacation pay in one-day increments in different months in order to obtain additional months of credited service." For any questions please contact your RRB District Office.
RRB implementing new toll-free phone service
CHICAGO - The U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) announced that it will begin phasing in nationwide toll-free telephone service starting in late November 2008.
A single toll-free number (1-877-772-5772/1-877-RRB-5RRB) will provide RRB customers with easy access to the agency’s field offices.
In addition, the new toll-free number will offer options for self-service through automated menus and automatic routing of calls to claims representatives in nearby offices during emergency and peak periods.
Twelve of the RRB’s 53 field offices will participate in the initial implementation of nationwide toll-free telephone service. The 12 field offices are St. Paul and Duluth, Minn.; Fargo, N.D.; Des Moines, Iowa; Jacksonville and Tampa, Fla.; Atlanta, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; Oakland, Sacramento and Covina, Calif.; and Mesa, Ariz. Altogether, these 12 offices serve some 130,000 retired employees, spouses, and survivors and some 50,000 active rail employees.
Nationwide toll-free telephone service will be available in additional RRB field locations after the initial implementation phase has been completed. Until then, RRB customers who reside outside of the service areas covered by these initial 12 offices should continue to use the telephone number for the field office providing service to their area by calling the automated RRB Help Line at 1-800-808-0772 or by looking online at www.rrb.gov.
The new toll-free service is scheduled to be implemented nationwide in all RRB field offices by March 2009.
(This item was distributed by the RRB Nov. 20, 2008.)
The amounts of compensation subject to railroad retirement tier I and tier II payroll taxes will increase in 2009. However, the tier I tax rate on employees and employers remains unchanged. Under the Railroad Retirement and Survivors’ Improvement Act of 2001, tier II tax rates are determined annually by an average account benefits ratio. Based on this ratio, the tier II tax rates on employees and employers will remain at their 2008 level in 2009. Railroad unemployment insurance tax rates paid by employers will continue to include a 1.5 percent surcharge in 2009.....Read More
Following are links to RRB forms, instructions and general information. For specific answers to benefit questions, please contact your RRB District Office.
Railroad Retirement Forms & Information
"An Injury To One Is An Injury To All"