As you may have heard, Congress recently enacted legislation to provide some financial relief to railroaders. In the legislation entitled the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), Congress essentially extended the benefits originally created by the CARES Act. This legislation provides for the following benefits:
* A recovery benefit of $600 per 2-week unemployment registration period. This extends the benefit that was established through legislation at the end of December and was due to expire March 14, 2021. As a result, employees receiving unemployment benefits will continue to receive an additional $600 per registration period. This benefit ends with registration periods that begin after September 6, 2021.
* Extended unemployment benefits for employees who have otherwise exhausted benefits. Now, in combination with previous legislation, an additional 200 days within 20 additional consecutive 2-week registration periods are payable. These extended benefits are available for days of unemployment on or after December 28, 2020. No additional days are available for registration periods beginning after September 6, 2021.
* Waiver of the 7-day waiting period for unemployment and sickness benefits. This was also extended to September 6, 2021.
In addition, ARPA provides that up to $10,200 in unemployment benefits may be exempt from income tax. This provision is administered by the IRS and they have more information here: New exclusion of up to $10,200 for unemployment benefits.
Finally, as you know, the Railroad Retirement Board's (RRB)'s budget has remained flat for several years now and as a result, agency resources have been limited. ARPA provided a much needed supplemental appropriation for the agency's administrative budget. ARPA appropriated the remaining amount needed for the RRB's multi-year IT modernization plan which will eventually provide more online services to railroaders and their families. In addition, it appropriated $6.8M for agency hiring related to the pandemic for the next 2 years. The RRB intends to hire staff in Field Service as well as in the unit at headquarters that handles sickness and unemployment applications. We hope that these additional hires will improve customer service.
As with previous legislation, the RRB has updated the information on its website with the details regarding these benefits. You can find the FAQs here: Coronavirus FAQs. Also, with most RRB field offices still closed to the public because of the pandemic, the agency is again reminding customers of the self-service options available to them to help avoid lengthy wait times. I encourage all railroaders to set up a myRRB.gov account on the RRB.gov website to help avoid any possible delays. To establish an account, employees should go to RRB.gov/myRRB and click on the button labeled "Sign in with Login.gov" at the top of the page. This directs them to login.gov where they will be guided through the process of creating an account and verifying their identity - which takes about 20 minutes to complete. Once an employee's identity is verified, they will be prompted to sign in to their account and then return to myRRB.