Legislative Update November 2012

The Election is Over… Let’s Move Forward!

The election is finally over and we offer our heartfelt congratulations to President Obama and Vice President Biden on their victory in securing another four-year term. And to them we say, “Fire it Up!” for we are fired up and we understand that we have work to do to ensure that Washington does right by BLET members and all working families. We have ended up once again with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House, making for a Congress that can’t seem to accomplish much of anything. We can only hope that those who have refused to compromise will reconsider their stance and do what is right for the American people, for compromise is the only way we can move forward. In the weeks ahead, our BLET Legislative Department will begin to address some of the issues that are of importance to us as railroad employees and families as they set forth their legislative agenda for 2013.

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to go the polls to cast your vote, as well as those of you who wisely cast your vote early, either by mail or at one of the early voting sites. No matter how you voted in this election, thank you to all of you who did exercise this most basic, yet most empowering right that we possess as American citizens. And now I urge you to continue to engage in the legislative process by keeping yourself educated about the issues that impact every aspect of our daily lives and urging your elected officials to support those issues that are important to us as working families.

Take Action Now!

As Congress heads back to Washington for their post-election “lame duck session,” some legislators are set on reaching a “grand bargain” that would cut the benefits on which working families depend. They want to cut Social Security benefits,raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare, and cut Medicaid, forcing families into bankruptcy when a loved one needs long-term care. Why? All to pay for outrageous tax breaks for the richest 2% of Americans.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has issued an Action Alert asking members take a stand to put working families first. Please call your members of Congress now at 888-659-9401 to urge them to vote “no” on extending the Bush-era tax cuts. Tell them:

 

  1. No more tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans.
  2. No benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.

 

Railroad Retirement Benefits to Increase in 2013

Most railroad retirement annuities, like social security benefits, are scheduled to increase in January 2013 on the basis of the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from the third quarter of 2011 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 1.7 percent, which is the percentage of the CPI rise. Tier II benefits will increase by 0.6 percent, which is 32.5 percent of the CPI rise.  The vested dual benefit payments and supplemental annuities also paid by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) are not adjusted for the CPI rise.

In January 2013, the average regular railroad retirement employee annuity will increase $32 a month to $2,386 and the average of combined benefits for an employee and spouse will increase $45 a month to $3,417. For those aged widow(er)seligible for an increase, the average annuity will increase $19 a month to $1,249. 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. About 35 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. However, 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 before any increase in Medicare premium deductions.

For most beneficiaries covered by Medicare, the standard Part B premium generally deducted from monthly benefits is likely to increase from the 2012 amount, with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services expected to announce the 2013 premium amounts in the coming weeks.

In late December the RRB will mail notices to all annuitants providing a breakdown of the annuity rates payable to them in January 2013.

Source: Press Release from Railroad Retirement Board, posted October 22, 2012.

BLET Members Impacted by Hurricane Sandy May Qualify for Unemployment Benefits

Hurricane Sandy negatively affected a huge portion of the nation, severely disrupting railroad operations, particularly on passenger and commuter lines in the Northeast. This has caused many railroad employees to miss work time and suffer financial losses, possibly making them eligible for unemployment benefits pursuant to the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (“RUIA”), which are administered by the Railroad Retirement Board (“RRB”).

In order to qualify for unemployment benefits at the current time, a railroad employee must have creditable railroad earnings in calendar year 2011 of at least $3,325.00, counting only the first $1,330.00 in earnings in each month. Additionally, a new employee must have railroad service for at least five (5) months in 2011 in order to be eligible for RUIA benefits at this time.

The RUIA has a waiting period requirement, under which no benefits are payable for the first seven days of unemployment in the first claim in a period of continuing unemployment, unless the individual has already served a waiting period since July 1. Once the waiting period has been satisfied, benefits are payable for each remaining day of unemployment in the first claim period. For example, if a member claims all fourteen days in his or her first claim, they will be paid benefits for seven days. The benefit rate is currently $66.00 per day.

A period of continuing unemployment means a period of time for which an employee files claims for unemployment benefits where (1) each claim has five or more valid days of unemployment, and (2) each claim begins within fifteen days after the previous claim ends. For example, claims for the 14-day periods beginning June 17 and July 15 are in the same period of continuing unemployment. The second claim starts within 15 days after June 30, the last day of the claim period beginning June 17. So benefits would be payable for lost work days over four in the claim period beginning July 15.

If a member has at least 5, 6 or 7 days of unemployment in a 14-day period, he or she should file a claim for benefits. Even though no benefits would be payable if the claim is the first in the benefit year, the claim should be filed in order for the member to satisfy the waiting period requirement. This will become important if there is another period

of unemployment between now and the end of next June. After the first claim, benefits will be paid for all days over four for other claims in the benefit year, meaning that ten days of unemployment benefits would be paid for every 14-day period of unemployment.

To determine eligibility or file claims for benefits, affected railroaders should call the RRB’s toll-free telephone number (1-877-772-5772) or visit its website at www.rrb.gov. More information can be obtained from Railroad Retirement Board Form UB 10, which includes an Application for Unemployment Benefits and Employment Service. (http://www.ble-t.org/pr/pdf/Form_UB-10_[2012-03].pdf) Those who have lost work time because of the storm can file their application and claims online at the RRB website at https://secure.rrb.gov/mep/ben_services.asp. To use online services, the member must have a PIN and Password (PPW) account. The website explains how to open a PPW account.

Open Enrollment for Healthcare Benefit for Former Railroad Employees and/or Their Dependents

If you know of someone (including other members of your family) not currently covered under Group Policy GA-23111 who wish to obtain coverage, please pass along this information.

 

During the months of November and December 2012, United Healthcare will hold an open enrollment under Group Policy GA-23111. During this period, any individual who is eligible for coverage under one of the GA-23111 plans can enroll and will be accepted for coverage without any medical underwriting or requirement of good health. There are no limitations for pre-existing conditions. Enrollment in November and December 2012 will be for coverage effective January 1, 2013. Only those applicants whose completed Enrollment Form is postmarked in November or December 2012 will be considered for open enrollment. The open enrollment is being held for former Railroad Employees (and their dependents) who were previously covered under any railroad health plan and were represented by a Railway Labor Organization; or were members in accordance with the constitution or by-laws of one of the participating Railway Labor Organizations, when coverage under their applicable group health plan ended.  If someone you know meets these GA-23111 eligibility provisions, open enrollment provides an opportunity for them to be covered. Other eligible members of your family may also enroll if they are not currently covered. In addition, open enrollment under GA-23111 Plan F is available for railroad employees’ parents or parents-in-law who are eligible under Medicare. Anyone interested in enrolling should call one of the following phone numbers to get additional information about these Plans:

  • For persons eligible for Medicare, call (800) 809-0453.
  • For persons NOT eligible for Medicare, call (800) 842-5252.

You may also find more information on the web at www.rrinfodepot.com by clicking on the tab “Retirement Corner.” An Enrollment Form can then be viewed and printed by clicking on “To-Do List, Forms and Information” and then clicking on “Supplemental Insurance.”