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When Survivors of Career Rail Workers Receive Benefits from Social Security
(Posted November 25, 2003)
Question 340: My uncle worked for the railroad for 33 years. He took an early out at age 52. At 60, he began receiving Railroad Retirement. He received 2 checks before his death in November 2003. He worked as a maintenance man for 8 years after taking his early out with the Railroad. My aunt has been told that she is to return his next pension check and that she will not receive widow's benefits through Railroad Retirement. Instead, she would receive them from Social Security. Shouldn't she be entitled to his pension that he had paid into the railroad for 33 years>
Answer: Your aunt's predictiment points out a unique situation with the Railroad Retirement system. It will only pay survivor benefits when the deceased rail worker had a "Current Connection" (see Q&A 260 of this column) regardless of how much railroad service the worker had. This has existed since the mid-1940's, when the two systems were linked by Congress and their survivor benefit programs were coordinated.
When a vested rail worker dies, the RRB determines if the worker had a "Current Connection" with the railroad industry. If the worker had one, the RRB pays benefits based on the combined railroad and Social Security earnings to the eligible family members. If the worker did not have the required "Current Connection," then RRB transfers the railroad earnings to Social Security, which then pays survivior benefits under the Social Security program.
Survivors usually receive lower benefits from Social Security than they would have from Railroad Retirement. This is because the Social Security program does not have a benefit comparable to RRB's Tier 2 benefit.
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