March 16, 2021

Manchin Bill To Ease Burden On Families Of Deceased Miners

Senator Manchin’s legislation will eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic requirements standing in the way of families and their benefits

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) led five Senators in introducing the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act to ease the burden on surviving families of miners who pass away due to black lung disease. Too often, survivors of deceased miners face difficulties in securing the benefits to which they are entitled, due to bureaucratic proof requirements that are often too difficult to meet. Senator Manchin’s legislation would ease these restrictions and make it easier for miners’ survivors to successfully claim these benefits.

 “Our brave miners and their families have sacrificed so much to provide America with the energy we need to be the most powerful nation in the world. For those miners who lost their lives due to black lung disease, we must ensure their families are cared for by providing them with the benefits they deserve. I’m proud to introduce the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act, which will help cut through the bureaucratic red tape that can delay access to benefits, as well as improving access to legal representation for miners and the survivors of miners. I will continue to advocate for miners and their families in the Mountain State and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help us pass this commonsense legislation,” said Senator Manchin.

The 1972 Black Lung Benefits Act provides monthly benefits to the surviving family members of coal miners who die from black lung – a disease brought on by the long-term inhalation of coal dust. These benefits are paid for either by respective coal mining companies or the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. However, due to restrictions associated with the Black Lung Benefits Program, survivors must establish that black lung was a substantial contributing cause of death – a burden of proof that is often difficult to meet since autopsy reports may not specifically site black lung, and instead reference related conditions.

The Relief for Survivors of Miners Act of 2021 would make it easier for miners’ survivors to apply for black lung benefits by:

  • Establishing a rebuttable presumption that a miner’s death was due to black lung if they were disabled due to pneumoconiosis at the time of death: Currently, survivors who are applying for black lung benefits but do not fall within the Department of Labor regulation §718.305, must identify all sources of medical information about the miner and prove to the Department of Labor that the miner’s death was due to or hastened by black lung. This bill would add to existing law by allowing survivors of miners to gain benefits by proving disability if they cannot prove the miner’s death was due to or hastened by black lung.
  • Improving access to legal representation for miners and survivors of miners: The current system for adjudicating black lung claims is often unbalanced, where miners and survivors of miners lack access to resources when filing for benefits. This legislation would direct the Secretary of Labor to establish a payment program to pay attorneys’ fees and other reasonable medical expenses incurred while establishing the claimant’s case. This change would help ensure that miners and survivors of miners are not at a disadvantage in securing benefits due to a lack of financial resources.

This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center (ACLC), and Appalachian Voices.

Senator Manchin was joined by Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Bill text can be found here