April 17, 2014

RRB fesses up on customer service

The following questions and answers discuss the Railroad Retirement Board’s performance in the key areas of retirement applications, survivor applications, disability applications and payments, and railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims during fiscal year 2009 (October 1, 2008 – September 30, 2009).

Included are the customer service performance goals the RRB set for fiscal year 2009 in its Annual Performance Plan. These goals are revised annually based on such factors as projected workloads and available resources. Also included is information on the RRB’s overall performance, as measured by the timeliness index developed by the agency.

1. How does the RRB measure overall timeliness for customer service?

The RRB developed an index to measure the overall timeliness of its customer service in four benefit areas: retirement applications; survivor applications; disability applications and payments; and railroad unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims. This composite indicator, based on a weighted average, allows for a more concise and meaningful presentation of its customer service efforts in these benefit areas.

2. How timely, overall, was the customer service provided by the RRB in fiscal year 2009, as measured by this timeliness index?

During fiscal year 2009, the overall benefit timeliness index stood at 99.2 percent. This means that the RRB provided benefit services within the time frames promised in the Customer Service Plan 99.2 percent of the time. More detailed performance information for specific benefit areas is presented in the questions and answers that follow.

3. What standards were used by the RRB in fiscal year 2009 for processing applications for railroad retirement employee or spouse annuities and how well did it meet those standards?

Under the RRB’s standards, if you filed an application for a railroad retirement employee or spouse annuity in advance, the RRB will make a decision to pay or deny the application within 35 days of the beginning date of your annuity. If you have not filed in advance, the RRB will make a decision within 60 days of the date you filed your application.

Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2009, the RRB made a decision within 35 days of their annuity beginning date on 94.53 percent of employee and 95.21 percent of spouse applicants who filed in advance. Taking these employee and spouse cases together, 94.86 percent of this group met the agency’s standard for fiscal year 2009. Average processing times for employee and spouse applications were 17.5 and 12 days, respectively; the combined average processing time for these cases was 15 days.

Also, of the cases processed, the RRB made a decision within 60 days of their filing dates on 98 percent of employee and 96.4 percent of spouse applicants who had not filed in advance. Taken together, 97 percent of these cases met the agency’s standard. In these cases, the average processing times for employee and spouse applications were 22.1 and 20.7 days, respectively; the combined average processing time was 21 days.

The RRB’s goals in fiscal year 2009 were 92.75 and 96.8 percent timeliness, respectively, for those filing in advance and those not filing in advance.

4. What standards were used in the area of survivor benefits in fiscal year 2009?

Under the standards, if you filed for a railroad retirement survivor annuity and you were not already receiving benefits as a spouse, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer your application to the Social Security Administration within 60 days of the beginning date of your annuity or the date the application is filed (whichever is later). If you are already receiving a spouse annuity, the RRB will make a decision to pay, deny, or transfer your application for a survivor annuity to the Social Security Administration within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death. If you filed for a lump-sum death benefit, the RRB will make a decision on your application within 60 days of the date the application is filed.

Of the cases considered during fiscal year 2009, the RRB made a decision within 60 days of the later of the annuity beginning date or the date the application was filed on 94.4 percent of the applications for an initial survivor annuity. In cases where the survivor was already receiving a spouse annuity, a decision was made within 30 days of the first notice of the employee’s death in 95.4 percent of the cases. In addition, a decision was made within 60 days of the date the application was filed on 97.43 percent of the applications for a lump-sum death benefit. Average processing time for all applications for recurring monthly benefits (initial survivor applications and spouse to survivor conversions) was 17.8 days. The average processing time for lump-sum death benefit applications was 11.5 days.

The goals for fiscal year 2009 were 94 and 95.1 percent timeliness, respectively, for processing initial survivor applications and spouse to survivor conversions. For processing applications for lump-sum death benefits, the goal was 97.25 percent.

5. What standards were used by the RRB in fiscal year 2009 for processing applications for disability annuities under the Railroad Retirement Act?

Under the Customer Service Plan, if you filed for a disability annuity, the RRB will make a decision within 100 days of the date you filed your application. If it is determined that you are entitled to disability benefits, you will receive your first payment within 25 days of the date of the RRB’s decision, or the earliest payment date, whichever is later.

Of the cases processed during fiscal year 2009, the RRB made a decision within 100 days of the date they filed an application on 62.5 percent of those filing for a disability annuity. The average processing time was 97 days. Of those entitled to disability benefits, 96.5 percent received their first payment within the Customer Service Plan’s time frame. Average processing time was 9 days.

The agency’s goals were 70 percent and 95 percent timeliness, respectively, for disability decisions and disability payments.

6. What were the standards for the handling of applications and claims for railroad unemployment and sickness benefits and how well did the RRB meet these standards?

Under the standards, if you filed an application for unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will release a claim form or a denial letter within 10 days of receiving your application. If you filed a claim for subsequent biweekly unemployment or sickness benefits, the RRB will certify a payment or a denial letter within 10 days of the date the RRB receives your claim form.

During fiscal year 2009, 99.5 percent of unemployment benefit applications sampled for timeliness and 99.34 percent of sickness benefit applications processed met the RRB’s standard. Average processing times for unemployment and sickness benefit applications were 0.4 and 3 days, respectively.

In addition, 99.8 percent of subsequent claims processed for unemployment and sickness benefits met the RRB’s standard for fiscal year 2009. The average processing time for claims was 4 days.

The agency’s goals for processing unemployment and sickness applications in fiscal year 2009 were 99.5 percent timely for unemployment applications and 99.25 percent timely for sickness applications. The payment or decision goal for subsequent claims was 99.8 percent timeliness.

7. How did the RRB’s performance in meeting its standards in fiscal year 2009 compare to its performance in fiscal year 2008?

Fiscal year 2009 performance met or exceeded fiscal year 2008 performance in the areas of employee and spouse applications (whether filed in advance or not), initial survivor applications, spouse to survivor conversions, lump-sum death benefits, unemployment and sickness benefit applications and claims, and disability payments. Average processing times in fiscal year 2009 equaled or improved fiscal year 2008 processing times in the areas of unemployment benefit applications and unemployment and sickness benefit claims. Also, for fiscal year 2009, the agency met or exceeded all of the customer service performance goals it had set for the year in its Annual Performance Plan with the exception of disability applications.

8. Can beneficiaries provide feedback to the RRB about the service they receive?

A Customer Assessment Survey form is available in every field office allowing beneficiaries to evaluate the service they received and suggest how the agency can improve its service. Persons not satisfied with the service they received may contact the manager of the office with which they have been dealing.

(The preceding release was issued by the Railroad Retirement Board on January 20, 2010.)