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Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Survivor Benefits from Social Security After Rail Worker's Death

(Posted October 26, 2006)

Question 607: My dad worked for an express company for more than 25 years. When it went out of business in the 1960's, he went to work outside the rail industry, where he was covered by Social Security. When he retired, he received both Railroad Retirement and Social Security benefits. Both benefits were paid by the Railroad Retirement Board.

He died earlier this year. The Railroad Retirement Board notified my mother that Social Security is responsible for paying her widow's benefit. We contacted SSA but they say they can't begin her payment because RRB is still paying benefits.

What can we do to untangle this situation?

Answer: Your mother's problems getting her widow's claim resolved are unfortunately not uncommon.

The information that the Railroad Retirement Board gave her is correct. Because your father worked outside the railroad industry between his service with the express company and when he retired, and undoubtedly had substantial earnings from that employment, he did not have a "Current Connection" with the railroad industry when he retired. Therefore Social Security, not Railroad Retirement, is responsible for paying survivor benefits.

Railroad workers can qualify for separate Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits while they are alive. But after death only one agency pays survivor benefits, based on combined earnings under both systems. The particular agency depends on whether the worker had a "Current Connection."

The transition between the two agencies is supposed to work more smoothly and timely than what has apparently happened in your mother's case.

Note-- As a postscript, the son informed me that he immediately contacted the office ofhis mother's Congressman. The case worker is very famaliar with the situation & the Congressional office is assisting in resolving the problem.

Since the RRB really can't do anything more, and SSA hasn't been responsive, I would strongly suggest you contact your mother's two U.S. senators and her U.S. Congressman for assistance. All congressional offices have "case workers" who know the "levers" to push to get government agencies to do the right thing. You would be surprised how fast this will get resolved once SSA feels the heat of legislators!

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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