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U.S. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) last week introduced the Railroad Employee Equality and Fairness Act, which would end the sequester on the Railroad Retirement Board's (RRB) Unemployment Insurance Account.
Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, and a subsequent sequestration order to implement mandatory spending cuts, railroad unemployment benefits have been reduced by a set percentage that is subject to revision at the beginning of each fiscal year. The sequester, as it relates to the RRB, continues until fiscal-year 2030.
Without the legislation, it is expected that the sequestration will result in a 5.7% reduction in railroad unemployment benefits through FY2030, the senators said in a press release.
Since most interstate railroad workers' payroll taxes are diverted to the RRB, unemployed railroad workers are not eligible for federal unemployment insurance benefits, which was not subject to the sequester. This has resulted in railroad workers taking a cut in expected benefits that the general public was not subject to, the senators said.
The current situation is particularly concerning during the pandemic, they said.
"This legislation would remove the harmful sequester that largely singled out railroad workers' unemployment benefits during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," said Portman. "The impact of the sequester has meant these railroad workers have not received the full unemployment insurance benefits that are due to them."
In 2019, the RRB received 35,030 unemployment claims. As of September, the board has received 133,899 claims, nearly a fourfold increase.
"Our workers are facing enormous challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic and railroad workers have been hit particularly hard," Klobuchar said.