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12/12/2001



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Retirement bill now balances on president's pen


After clearing the Senate 90-9 last week, Railroad Retirement and Survivors' Improvement Act of 2001 (H.R. 10) Dec. 11 again passed the House, this time by a 369-33 vote, and now is headed for the president.
The legislation — which July 31 passed the House 384-33 — returned for a House vote due to a bill number change (the bill's language remained intact).
If President Bush signs H.R. 10 — as bill supporters believe he will by year-end — improved retirement benefits could come as soon as early 2002.
"We expect it to be on the president's desk within two weeks," said United Transportation Union National Legislative Director James Brunkenhoefer in a prepared statement.
If signed into law, the legislation will provide full retirement annuity at age 60 (instead of age 62) after 30 years of service, eliminate artificial caps on benefits, establish new-employee vesting in the Railroad Retirement System after five years (instead of 10 years), and raise a widow’s Tier II annuities to equal those paid by Social Security (current law sets a widow’s Tier II annuity at 50 percent of a retiree’s Tier II annuity).
H.R. 10 also would allow the railroad pension to be invested in a mix of public and private securities.
"For surviving spouses, this legislation will mean hundreds of dollars more in benefits each month, making it a little easier to pay the bills, and buy both food and medicine," said Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger, adding that the bill almost immediately would benefit tens of thousands of people.
The bill's early-retirement provision also would help open new job opportunities for laid-off junior employees, said Brunkenhoefer.


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