June 02, 2016

Miner benefits: Action needed on critical measure | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

A group of 27 lawmakers are correctly urging Congress to vote on the Miners Protection Act before they leave Washington for the summer recess. The proposed legislation would address the impending loss of health and pension benefits for thousands of our coal miners, as well as the looming multi-employer pension crisis facing hundreds of thousands of other working Americans.

The Miners Protection Act, if approved by Congress, would specifically protect both the health care and pension benefits for retired coal miners and their dependents with funding through the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program. Area lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., are among those urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the measure up for a vote before the summer recess.

In the letter to McConnell, the 27 lawmakers said, “Seventy years ago this month, President Harry Truman brokered the historic Krug-Lewis agreement that guaranteed health and pension benefits for coal miners who put their lives at risk every day to meet our country’s energy needs. Today, we are on the verge of breaking that promise to over 100,000 miners and their beneficiaries, and the impact will be felt in every state of the union. If Congress does not act, thousands of coal miners, including 3,284 miners, dependents and widows in Kentucky, will lose their retiree health benefits by the end of December and the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan will hit a ‘point of no return’ beginning next year.”

While the letter authored by the 27 lawmakers — mostly Democrats — specifically points out McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, it is important to note that many retired coal miners in West Virginia and Virginia also would be adversely impacted by a lack of congressional action.

On March 1 of this year, the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on the multi-employer pension crisis, including the Miners Protection Act, the lawmakers said in their letter. But despite strong bipartisan support from members of the committee, the 27 lawmakers say they have yet to receive any assurance that the bill will come up for a vote in committee.

As a result, the 27 senators are urging McConnell and Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch to swiftly schedule a committee markup and allow a floor vote on this bill to address the potential loss of coal miners’ health and pension benefits.

We join Manchin, Kaine, Warner and the 24 other lawmakers in encouraging McConnell and Hatch to bring this important measure to a floor vote as soon as possible. As lawmakers do have a responsibility to ensure the protection of the hard-earned pensions and health benefits of coal miners. These are the same brave men and women who dedicated their lives to helping power our nation. Their hard work has kept America strong over the years, and we believe these coal miners are now more than ever deserving of their promised benefits.

By:  Editorial