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Q&A Part I: children, widows may be eligible for benefits

Monthly benefits may be payable under the Railroad Retirement Act to the surviving widow(er), children and certain other dependents of a railroad employee if the employee was "insured" under that Act at the time of death. Lump-sum death benefits may also be payable to qualified survivors in some cases. The following is Part I of a question and answer series to better describe the survivor benefits payable by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board.

Q: How do railroad retirement survivor benefits compare to social security survivor benefits?

Most railroad retirement survivor benefits include a portion called a tier I amount, plus an additional tier II amount.

The survivor tier I amount is based on the deceased employee's combined railroad retirement and social security credits, and is computed using social security formulas. In general, the survivor tier I amount is equal to the amount of survivor benefits that would have been payable under social security.

Tier II is based on railroad retirement credits only and the survivor tier II amount is a percentage of the deceased employee's tier II amount. A widow(er) generally receives 50% of the employee's tier II amount, each child receives 15%, and each surviving parent receives 35%. The minimum total tier II amount payable to a family is 35% of the employee's tier II amount, and the maximum, 80%.

The average railroad retirement survivor benefit awarded at the end of fiscal year 1996 to aged and disabled widow(er)s was $875 a month compared to about $670 for widow(er)s covered by social security. Awards to younger widow(er)s with a child in care averaged about $960 a month compared to $490 under social security. Railroad retirement children's benefits averaged $760 a month while social security children's benefits averaged about $470.

In any case, a widow(er) who received a spouse annuity from the Board is guaranteed that the amount of any widow(er)'s benefit payable will never be less than the annuity she or he was receiving as a spouse in the month before the employee died.

Q: What are the general service requirements for railroad retirement survivor benefits?

With the exception of one type of lump-sum death benefit, eligibility for survivor benefits depends on whether or not a deceased employee was "insured" under the Railroad Retirement Act. An employee is insured if he or she has at least 10 years of railroad service and a "current connection" with the railroad industry at the time of retirement or death.

Generally, an employee who worked for a railroad in at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the month his or her railroad retirement annuity begins will meet the current connection requirement. If an employee dies before retirement, railroad service in at least 12 months in the 30 months before death will meet the current connection requirement for the purpose of paying survivor benefits.

If an employee does not qualify on this basis, but has 12 months' service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the current connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the employee did not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after the end of the last 30-month period which included such 12 months of railroad service and before the month the annuity begins or the date of death.

Full or part-time work for a nonrailroad employer in an interim between the end of the last 30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the beginning date of an employee's annuity, or the date of death if earlier, can break a current connection.

In some cases, a current connection may be deemed for survivor benefit purposes for employees with 25 years of service who were involuntarily terminated without fault from the rail industry on or after Oct. 1, 1975, and did not thereafter decline an offer of employment in the same class or craft in the rail industry, regardless of the distance to the new position.

Once a current connection is established at the time the railroad retirement annuity begins, an employee never loses it no matter what kind of work is performed thereafter.

Q: What if these service requirements are not met?

If a deceased employee did not have an insured status, jurisdiction of any survivor benefits payable is transferred to the Social Security Administration and survivor benefits are paid by that agency instead of the Board. Regardless of which agency has jurisdiction, the deceased employee's railroad retirement and social security credits will be combined for benefit computation purposes.

Q: What are the age requirements for widow(er)s?

Widow(er)s' benefits are payable at age 60 or over. They are payable at any age if the widow(er) is caring for an unmarried child of the deceased employee who is under age 18 or a disabled child of any age who became permanently disabled before age 22. Widow(er)s' benefits are also payable at ages 50-59 if the widow(er) is permanently disabled and unable to work in any regular employment.

The disability must have begun within seven years after the employee's death, within seven years after the termination of an annuity based on caring for a child, or within seven years after the termination of an earlier entitlement to a disability annuity.

A five-month waiting period is required after the onset of disability before disability payments can begin.

Part II continued next issue. ·

BLE Job Bank

Indiana Harbor Belt

The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad is now accepting resumes from certified locomotive engineers, reports BLE General Secretary-Treasurer Russell Bennett. The railroad requests that interested BLE members send their resumes to the following individual:

Mr. Bill Jusko
General Road Foreman
Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad
2721 - 161st Street
Hammond, IN 46323
Phone (219) 989-4814

A note to all BLE general chairmen: If you know of vacancies on your railroad and wish them to become a part of the BLE Job Bank, please contact GST Russ Bennett at the International Office, (216) 241-2630 ext. 227, or e-mail to Brother Bennett at:


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