June 07, 2017

Senators call for highest level of funding for black lung clinics | Beckley Register Herald

A group of U.S. Senators, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has requested the highest level of funding — $10 million — in Fiscal Year 2018 to support black lung health clinics. 

Black lung disease, a debilitating, potentially fatal disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust, impacts thousands of individuals who have played a major role in energy economy.

In a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, the senators requested the funding bill include the full authorized amount to support the clinics, which provide health screenings, medical care and assistance in securing black lung benefits for miners.

Joining Manchin in the letter are Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The senators wrote, “Due to the rise in the number of miners diagnosed with black lung disease, as documented by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, we are asking you to consider providing $10 million for the black lung program."

They continued, "We are grateful for the slight increase in the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill, however we also note that funding to these black lung clinics has been historically frozen and is well-below its authorized level of $10 million in the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977."

They highlighted that the clinics have faced a substantial increase in demands from coal miners for screening, diagnosis and pulmonary rehabilitation.

"Some clinics are so underfunded that they are operating with obsolete and inefficient diagnostic equipment, which is needlessly increasing miners’ radiation dose when they receive a chest X-ray.”

The letter said there are 28 black lung clinics located in 15 coal mining states which, with very small grants provided by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy within the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), serve as a lifeline for disabled miners who have spent a lifetime toiling in coal mines.

By:  Wendy Holdren