February 28, 2019

American Miners Act of 2019 Needs To Become Law | The Clarksburg Exponent Telegram

Another year, another battle for coal miners here in West Virginia and across the United States.

Retired coal miners’ health care pensions and black lung benefits “are on the chopping block again,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said during last week’s debate on the Senate Bill 27, also known as the American Miners Act of 2019.

Manchin joined with senators from Virginia and Pennsylvania to introduce the legislation that would provide funding to cover the cost of benefits for miners whose companies declare bankruptcy and are allowed to discharge those costs to shed expenses.

It is a practice that is becoming far too common, Manchin said, saying that it’s unfair because the miners are owed the benefits.

“They’ve worked for this,” Manchin said. “They’ve negotiated for this. They are not asking for a handout, they are asking to get what they paid for, what they negotiated for, what they didn’t take home to their families.

“We have to keep our promise that signed into law in the Krug-Lewis Agreement. That goes back to 1946,” Manchin told WV MetroNews.

Manchin said that agreement, under the executive order of President Harry Truman, should be considered a federal guarantee to supporting the miners’ benefits.

Manchin had plenty of support from West Virginia’s other senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who said the funding mechanism is in place to support the needed benefits.

“We should pass legislation that expands the use of the same transfer payments that is used to support retiree healthcare to make the pension fund solvent,” she said.

She told WV MetroNews that “the average benefit paid by this fund is $560 per month. These retirees aren’t getting rich on their pension plans and they are not taking lavish expenditures. Without this monthly benefit, many of them would be living on the edge of poverty if they are not already.”

Manchin said that by extending the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax of $1.10 per ton of underground mined coal and 55 cents per ton of surface-mined coal, enough money would be generated to cover the new costs. Also, the in-service distribution rules for pension plans will need to be consistent with rules of other 401k and 403b plans.

Manchin’s proposal makes sense and is the right thing to do for our miners who have toiled to keep the country powered for years.

And Manchin is right to urge Congress to find permanent solutions, instead of the continuing stopgap efforts.

“Save the health care of these miners suffering from new bankruptcies. Protect the pensions of 87,000 miners nationwide to do it by passing the American Miners Act. This would also ensure the future of the Black Lung Trust Fund, a lifeline of the growing numbers of miners with Black Lung.”

Manchin and Capito are right. It’s time for Congress to act, providing a well-earned safety net for miners’ pensions and benefits.


By:  John Miller