January 17, 2017

Manchin, Capito, Warner, Brown, Heitkamp, Casey, McCaskill, Portman, Kaine, Donnelly, Re-Introduce Miners Protection Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Bob Casey (D-PA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) today introduced the Miners Protection Act. This legislation would ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits to retired miners and their families who are facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies. In December, the Senate passed a continuing resolution that included a four-month proposal to fund retired miners healthcare for the duration of the continuing resolution, which ends in April.

“Although I was disappointed when the Senate passed a short-term fix to this long-term problem, I was encouraged when Majority Leader McConnell committed to securing a permanent fix for retired miners and their families,” Senator Manchin said. “I have also received assurances from President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence that they would work with me on securing a permanent healthcare solution for miners. That is why re-introducing the Miners Protection Act in the new Congress is so important. Our coal miners are some of the hardest working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world. We have a responsibility to protect their hard-earned pensions and health benefits. I look forward to working with my colleagues to provide certainty and peace of mind to our retired miners and their families by ensuring they receive the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

“I was very disappointed that the continuing resolution the Senate passed in December extended health care coverage to our miners for only four months. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Trump Administration and Congress to protect health benefits for West Virginia’s miners, and the bill I am introducing today is the first step to making that a reality. At the same time, we must also advance policies that will put our miners back to work and rebuild local economies that rely on energy production," said Senator Capito.

“At the end of the last Congress, Senate leadership pledged to work with us to ensure that we honor our promises to the thousands of miners – and their families – who are depending on their health and pension benefits to make ends meet in retirement. We intend to hold them to that promise. These are hardworking Americans who spent their lives doing a difficult and dangerous job in order to power our country, and we owe it to them and their families to come through on those commitments. The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan, responsible solution to address the underfunded UMWA pension plan, and I look forward to working with my colleagues, Republican and Democrat, to ensure that we step up and do right by these families,” said Senator Warner.

“Ohio coal miners sacrificed their backs and lungs for the promise they’d have a nest egg to retire and healthcare if they got sick. It’s up to us to ensure that these workers and their families receive the full benefits they earned over a lifetime of backbreaking work,” said Senator Brown.

“Coal miners have helped build our country with their own sweat and labor, and they keep the lights on in homes for families in every one of our states,” said Heitkamp. “This bipartisan bill offers a long-term solution that would make sure Congress values hard work and enables these coal miners to get the health care and pensions that worked so hard for. They deserve nothing less and should know that when the government makes a promise to the hard working men and women of this country, it will honor that promise.”

“These coal miners and their families have done their jobs for our nation, now it’s time for Congress to do its job and protect their pensions and health care,” Senator Casey said. “Pennsylvania families have waited far too long for a solution to this issue, it’s time pass this bill and get it on the President’s desk.”

“Harry Truman—whose Senate seat I hold today—made a promise to these coal miners when he was President, that their government would honor their pensions and health benefits. I hope elected Republicans in the U.S. House will finally recognize that keeping that promise is the right thing to do for these miners and their families, whose blood, sweat and tears powered this country for generations,” Senator McCaskill said.

“We must protect the hard-earned pensions and health benefits of our nation’s coal miners,” said Senator Portman. “While we made some progress on this effort last year, I was very disappointed that the full Miner’s Protection Act wasn’t included in the year-end spending bill.  I will keep fighting for our coal miners and working to enact this bipartisan legislation until it is signed into law.”      

“Virginia miners and their families have waited far too long for action on the Miners Protection Act. Congress has a duty to uphold the basic promise we made to our coal miners and ensure that their lifetime pensions and health care benefits will be funded. I am proud to once again join a bipartisan group of my colleagues to stand up for miners on this critical issue,” Kaine said.

“The bipartisan Miners Protection Act should be considered and passed as soon as possible,” Senator Donnelly said. “For too long, thousands of miners in Indiana and across the country have been waiting for action on a long-term solution. These retirees and their families earned these benefits and are counting on the federal government to keep its promise.”

Other cosponsors include Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Richard Burr (R- NC) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).  

Retired miners are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is severely underfunded. Unlike other public and private pension plans, the 1974 Pension Plan was well-managed and funded prior to the 2008 financial crisis, which hit at a time when this Plan had its highest payment obligations. This – coupled with the fact that 60% of the beneficiaries are “orphan” retirees whose employers are no longer in the coal business, and the fact that there are only 10,000 active workers for 120,000 retirees – has placed the Plan on the road to insolvency. If the Plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of dollars in liabilities.

To address these issues, the Miners Protection Act would:

Amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.

Make certain retirees who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1993 Benefit Plan. The assets of Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) created following the Patriot Coal bankruptcy would be transferred to the 1993 Benefit Plan to reduce transfers from the AML fund.